Luke 5:12-15 A man with a skin disease
12 Jesus was in one of the towns where there was also a man covered with a skin disease. When he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged, “Lord, if you want, you can make me clean.”
13 Jesus reached out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do want to. Be clean.” Instantly, the skin disease left him. 14 Jesus ordered him not to tell anyone. “Instead,” Jesus said, “go and show yourself to the priest and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses instructed. This will be a testimony to them.” 15 News of him spread even more and huge crowds gathered to listen and to be healed from their illnesses.
This is the word of God for us the people of God. Thanks be to God.
This Lent as we look at the Gospel of Luke, we are considering how we could actually call this book the Gospel of the Nobodies. Because in the book of Luke, we see that Jesus had a special concern and compassion for people whom the world might consider nobodies. Jesus ate with sinners, he healed lepers, and offered salvation to those who were overlooked, ignored, forgotten and mistreated. He showed compassion to people who were bullied and disrespected, and he offered hope to people who suffered in all kinds of ways. And the good news is that Jesus offers us that same hope and healing today!
Last week we talked about the humble beginnings that Jesus had on this earth. We remembered how Jesus’s mother Mary was a nobody herself – an unmarried pregnant teenager. We read the scripture about the first people who heard the news of Jesus’ birth in the humble setting of the manger. Do you remember – the shepherds who were watching their sheep at night were the first to hear about the birth of the Messiah! They were the first to travel to Bethlehem to see the newborn king. A handful of disrespected shepherds working the graveyard shift were specifically chosen by God to be the first to receive this amazing news!
If you’ve been reading through Luke, in chapter 2 – starting with verse 25, you can read about an elderly man Simeon and an 84-year old widow, Anna, who were at the temple to witness the presentation of baby Jesus at the temple when he was 8 days old. It was these two nobodies who recognized the holiness within Jesus even as a baby, and they joyfully celebrated and praised God.
And in chapter 4, we witness that Jesus was even treated as a nobody. In fact, we will see this several times throughout this Gospel, and of course especially leading up to our Holy Week story when Jesus is crucified. In chapter 4, we witness Jesus going to his hometown and speaking in the synagogue there. Jesus was just beginning his ministry, and so he basically goes to his home church to preach – the place you should feel safest and most supported, right? And so, Jesus stands and unrolls the scroll of Isaiah, and he proclaims his mission, starting with verse 18. He spells out that he has come to save those who are considered nobodies. And Jesus’s home church doesn’t get it. They get angry that Jesus is pretending to be a somebody. They know him just as the son of a carpenter – Joseph’s son, right? They wonder why Jesus thinks he can stand in the synagogue and proclaim the word of God; he’s nobody! Jesus’s own people have a vision problem. They can’t see the power of God in Jesus. They become so enraged when Jesus teaches on scripture that is about God’s judgment against Israel, that they begin to see Jesus as a nobody instead of a somebody. They became so enraged that they tried to throw him off a cliff. Look at verse 29:
8 When they heard this, everyone in the synagogue was filled with anger. 29 They rose up and ran him out of town. They led him to the crest of the hill on which their town had been built so that they could throw him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the crowd and went on his way.
The story of the nobodies continues– at the beginning of chapter 5, Jesus calls a group of nobodies to follow him and to be his disciples: Jesus chooses ordinary working-class fishermen.
And then we come to the story of Jesus healing the man with a skin disease in today’s scripture in verse12. Many Bible translations say that the man had leprosy. And so, we need to spend a few minutes thinking about what leprosy was and what it meant to suffer from this disease. The scripture takes on a much deeper meaning when we read it in the time and place it was written.
In Jesus’ day, the word leprosy was used for a lot of different skin conditions, and included diseases like boils and ringworm (Edwards, 68—see also Leviticus 13-14). And some were the serious form of the disease where the flesh rotted away until the person lost body parts like fingers, hands or feet. Some of those diseases had no known cure, and so they were greatly feared. Some of the diseases were highly communicable, so lepers were required to live in isolation. (Dick Donovan, SermonWriter).
If you’ve been reading Leviticus in the Grand Sweep, you’ve probably read some of the rules for people with leprosy. Lev. 13:45-46 says this:
45 Anyone with an infection of skin disease must wear torn clothes, dishevel their hair, cover their upper lip, and shout out, “Unclean! Unclean!” 46 They will be unclean as long as they are infected. They are unclean. They must live alone outside the camp. (Leviticus 13:45-46).
The Old Testament has several accounts of God afflicting people with leprosy as punishment (Numbers 12:9-10; 2 Kings 5:27; 15:5; 2 Chronicles 26:19-21), so people tended to interpret leprosy as punishment for sin. (Donovan). Now today, we don’t believe that sickness is caused by sinfulness. Thanks to the field of science and medicine we know how diseases are transmitted. But leprosy in this case is a general symbol of sin.
The distressing disease of leprosy was so dreaded because it had multiple dimensions—medical, religious, social and financial. The person was considered physically afflicted, as well as ritually or spiritually unclean. Not only that but lepers were separated socially; they were required to live alone and to maintain a distance of fifty paces from other people and were required to yell out “Unclean, unclean” when anyone approached (Leviticus 13:45-46).
If the leper touched another person or was touched by them, the other person was considered to be diseased and ritually unclean until examined by a priest and pronounced clean. In other words, both the disease (medical) and the ritual impurity (spiritual) were communicable. The afflicted person was unable to work, and so was reduced to begging. Most likely his family was also reduced to begging. The medical problem was horrific, but the consequences were physical, spiritual, social and financial. Having this disease was devastating to individuals and to families. (Donovan).
A doctor in charge of a leper colony described it like this: “The leper is sick in mind as well as body. For some reason there is an attitude to leprosy different from the attitude to any other disfiguring disease. It is associated with shame and horror, and carries, in some mysterious way, a sense of guilt, although innocently acquired like most contagious troubles. Shunned and despised, frequently do lepers consider taking their own lives and some do.” (Barclay, 58).
And so what I ask you to think about is what kind of a life this might have been. Imagine being such a nobody that you weren’t even allowed to be within 50 feet of “normal” people. Imagine losing your job and your family. Imagine not being allowed into your church or your household because of this disease.
And so it is from this sense of total worthlessness that the leper approached Jesus. Apparently, the leper could see something in Jesus. The leper could see the power of God within Jesus. The leper sensed that there was hope for him in Jesus.
So with all of that in mind, let’s hear the story again. Chapter 5, starting with verse 12.
12 Jesus was in one of the towns where there was also a man covered with a skin disease. When [the man] saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged, “Lord, if you want, you can make me clean.”
The leper fell on his face and begged Jesus to make him clean. He begged Jesus to restore him spiritually, physically, and socially. He begged: “Lord, if you want, you can make me clean.” The leper had eyes to see that Jesus could heal him, save him, forgive him, and make him into a somebody with a purpose.
The leper trusted Jesus enough that he just rushed to him and laid it all at his feet. Even though he knew he was forbidden from coming near others. He trusted that Jesus would touch him and not recoil. He trusted that Jesus was the somebody who could change his life and cleanse him of all the sickness, disease and sin. And the leper was right because:
13 Jesus reached out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do want to make you clean. Be clean.” Instantly, the skin disease left him.
The man with leprosy had been heavily burdened. He must have felt fear, and guilt and shame from the disease. But everything changed that day because he had eyes to see the healer, and he trusted enough to admit his desperate need for salvation and to beg for Jesus to restore his life.
The response of Jesus saved this man from a wretched life.
But I can’t stop thinking about Jesus’s hometown people back in Nazareth. The ones we read about in chapter 4. The ones who saw Jesus as a nobody – the ones who saw Jesus just as Joseph’s boy, the carpenter’s son. You know, the ones who were so mad that they tried to throw Jesus off the cliff. The ones who couldn’t see the power of God within Jesus!
And I compare their reaction to Jesus with the reaction of the leper. The leper apparently saw something different in Jesus than his homeboys did. What did the leper do? He threw himself at the feet of Jesus seeking healing, seeking forgiveness, seeking restoration to a life of joy – he must have been hoping this stigma which kept him separated from God and from the people who loved him would be erased from his life. And he trusted enough to beg Jesus to help him.
I’m wondering today what kind of eyes we have. I’m wondering first if we have eyes to see people like the man with leprosy. Do we really see those who are disabled and those who are sick with the eyes of Christ. I’m wondering if we might begin to notice the people that Jesus talks about in Matthew 25 when he says, “when you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” When you cared for the sick, you cared for me. I’m wondering if we have eyes to see those who are so stigmatized by society that we would never invite them into our community of believers.
But I’m also wondering if we have eyes to see who Jesus is in our lives. We probably wouldn’t be so overt as to figuratively throw Jesus off a cliff. But do we give Jesus the time of day in our lives? Have we heard the stories of Jesus so many times that we don’t even recognize the power of God within them? Do we really have eyes to see and ears to hear the words Jesus might speak directly to us this very day? Do we have the trust to lay all the mess and hurt and pain and fear that is in our lives at the feet of Jesus and beg for healing and salvation? Are we willing to admit that we can’t do it alone, and that we need a savior in our lives? When will we fall on our knees and let the power of God in Jesus transform who we are? When will we let the touch of our most Holy God make us whole? Let us pray.
Mighty God. Holy God. Healing God. We fall at your knees, and we beg you to make us clean.
We take a minute to listen for how you would come to us in this time of prayer.
God we give you all that worries us, and name those things before you. Jesus we give you the things that only you can handle – and we name all those things now.
Holy Spirit give us eyes to see the nobodies who need to know they are really somebodies in God’s kingdom. Help us to see the power of Jesus to transform our lives and make us whole. Give us the boldness to be the hands and feet of Christ in a world that desperately needs healing.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.”
we kneel before you.
Reach out and
put your hand on us.
Bind up our terrible wounds.
to be wounded
Caress your world.
Use us to