This Sunday I preached about Jesus’ encounter with the leper in Matthew 8. What an incredible story told in just a handful of verses. It seems as Jesus was coming down the mountain from delivering the greatest sermon in the history of mankind (the Sermon on the Mount), a leper came and knelt before him. The audacity of this leper! Imagine the moment. The crowd is pressing in behind Jesus and they’re taking up the whole road. When out of nowhere a leper appears and throws himself at the feet of Jesus. Now lepers were outcasts…the most unclean of the unclean. It was illegal for them to even be on the road at the same time as a non-leprous person. Imagine the gasp that went through the crowd as this unclean leper steps into the middle of the road and brings the whole entourage to a screeching halt. All eyes are on Jesus and this leper. In one collective intake of breath, all wait to see what would happen.
Almost every time I read the Bible, I am blown away by Jesus. Jesus could heal people with a word. He could heal them from far off. He could heal them by telling them some outrageous thing to do and if they had enough faith to obey him, they would be healed. In this instance, Jesus does the most shocking, unthinkable thing. He touches the leper! In my mind, it wasn’t a nice little “lay your hand on the cheek” sort of touch. The leper would have been clothed in rags from head to toe. He was on his knees. In what must have sent shockwaves through the crowd, Jesus probably got down on his knees and reached up and removed the lepers coverings…his veil and his head covering. He would have looked at this outcast of society directly in the eyes and reaching out and placed his undiseased hands upon the flesh of the diseased man. Why would Jesus do this, when he could have healed him with a word?
In my opinion, Jesus was into shocking those around him. He had just got done preaching to the crowds. He had told them “Do to others what you would have them do to you.” Instead of being like so many who say the grandiose mottos and catchphrases of christianity, Jesus knew that the best way to drive his point home was to do. One of the many things that I admire about Jesus, and why I want to be so much like him, is that he was not just a talker…he was a doer. If he told people to “love others,” he went out and did it. If he told people to “do to others what you would have them do to you,” he went out and did it. He was so unlike the many church goers that fill up our churches on Sundays but live without love and compassion and faith the rest of the week. This must stop if we are going to change the world!
This week we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr Day in the United States. Why do so many admire this man? Afterall, he was a living, breathing man not unlike us. The thing that I think made MLK Jr a hero is that he didn’t just talk his faith, he walked it. He had the courage to do what he knew needed to be done. There were many who spoke out against segregation and inequality, but few that would put themselves out there to be stoned, spat upon, hit, jailed, mocked, ridiculed, and killed. The people that we look to as hero’s, were hero’s because they “did” what they knew needed to be done.
What about you and I? Jesus touched the leper in one of the most touching and loving stories in the whole Bible. Do we touch the lepers in our society? Do we practice what we preach? If we truly did, this would would be a much different place. If we followers of Jesus really imitated Jesus, there would be a lot more people attracted to him and to his church. When we leave our church buildings after our weekly “sermon on the mount,” we have to “do” it! We have to go against our societal and religious norms and reach out to “touch the leper.”
My friends, this week I challenge you to “touch a leper” in your life. Some outcast, some down on their luck person, some abused child, someone whom society and the church typically turns their back on and looks down upon will come into your path. “Touch the Leper!” I dare you…and watch what God does in your life and in the life of that leper!
– James Smith serves as the senior teacher/preacher at Mt Carmel Christian Church in Cynthiana, Ky. He is an author of The House that Richard Built (ebook coming in 2012 from All Star Press) as well as numerous magazine/study guide publications. He is also a regular presenter at training seminars and conferences on a number of issues.