Continuing on with Luke 5, I re-read this today:
While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy.And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him. And he charged him to tell no one, but “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.” Luke 5: 12-16
There is a ridiculous amount of things in this simple passage to think about, and I guess that I only caught about half of it.
One of the things that stood out to me was the fact that the leper did not worry about making himself clean before going to Jesus, and before bowing to Jesus to ask for healing. Not that someone with leprosy really has a choice, I guess. But this story points to an oft-used evangelism trope: you don’t need to clean yourself up before coming to Jesus, but just come as you are. And thankfully, this is true. Christ accepts us ‘as we are,’ or where we’re at, and in fact He is the one who cleans us up, much like He did with the leper (though usually not instantaneously).
And while this is a popular evangelism line, I wonder how much we actually believe it. And even more, how many of us Christians believe it when we come to Christ in prayer? Maybe it’s just me, but for a long time I struggled with lies that I had to clean up my act before I could come to Christ in worship or prayer. “If only I stop this habitual sin” or “I can’t pray while I’m angry” and things like that, I thought. And I suspect that I’m not the only one who acts this way.
For the leper it was impossible for him to ‘clean up his act’ before coming to Jesus. He knew it, everyone knew it. And the same is true for us. We cannot, in our own strength, really clean up our act. We cannot purify our own hearts or minds (though we can work towards it through sanctification). Only Jesus can truly heal us. And until we come to a realization of this, we will never come fully to Jesus. “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” and He wills it. And He will.
Something else that jumped out to me was the fact that Jesus touched the leper before He healed him. Here was this dirty man, likely wrapped in rags with decaying flesh underneath, maybe missing a nose or fingers, and Jesus touched him. As he was. And then, after He’d touched him, Jesus healed him. What stands out for me in this is the challenge and example, as I try to live a Christ-like life, to touch the dirty, the untouchable, and the outcast (which lepers were/are). This has two out-workings that I can think of: being willing to shake that beggar’s hand when he stretches it out to me, and being willing to share my life with the person who is chronically depressed. These are specific examples of a general principle: Will I, like Jesus, touch those (either figuratively or literally) that no one else is willing to touch? Will I love like Christ loves, and show it in real, concrete, ways?
It is as we show the love of Christ like this that He can begin healing the broken and setting the captive free; But the touch must happen first, not after. The touch is largely itself the vehicle through which Jesus heals.
At the end of the chapter Luke comments that Jesus “would withdraw to desolate places and pray.” This shows where Jesus received the strength to do all that He did, including touching and healing the leper. We all recognize and know that prayer is essential to live the Christian life, but I wonder how seriously we take it. Just as Jesus depended on God in prayer, how much more do we need to.
May we all be found praying in the desolate places often, coming as we are before God. For then we will see the healing of Christ both in us and through our touch more powerfully, more fully, and more frequently than we can imagine.