At school, we learned that leprosy was incurable. That one's skin became desensitized to pain and fingers, noses, arms and legs gradually rotted away. I used to be scared at the thought of contracting this dreaded disease, and would hold my breath passing by one of 'them' so as not to breathe in the virus. If I tossed one a coin, it would be from afar. Lepers were usually beggars and pushed themselves on small wooden carts with trundle wheels where they begged at train and bus stations and markets. They were shunned by society and had no family, wandering instead in groups. People avoided them. (picture of leper and also here)
With this background, I was amazed when I read this sentence in the passage:
12 While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”Jesus touches a leper! For a Rabbi, this was unthinkable. It made Jesus ceremonially unclean according to Old Testament law in the Torah.
13 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.
14 Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”
15 Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 5)
But think of why he did this. He could have healed the man with a single word as he did on so many occasions. Jesus did not need to touch the man. Yet he did.
To be touched is a universal human craving. Some years ago, Romanian orphanages found babies died mysteriously even when they were well fed. It was found that they were fed but left alone by themselves. When they were picked up and held and carried, the death rate in these orphanages diminished.
The man craved contact from another healthy human being. Being shunned from society meant that only another leper could touch him. People recoiled and shrank in horror when he approached; he had to loudly announce his presence in advance calling out, "Unclean!". The wound inside his soul was deep. Not just his rotting flesh, but his wounded soul needed healing. Being touched by Jesus even when he was diseased meant he was accepted and cared for.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5)Furthermore, I believe that Jesus did not simply give him a light tap. I believe that Jesus really placed his hand on the leper's body so that the significance sunk into the psyche of the man.
Yet another arresting instance of the compassion of Jesus.