Luke 5:12-16

Once, when he was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” Then Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do choose. Be made clean.” Immediately the leprosy left him. And he ordered him to tell no one.

“Go,” he said, “and show yourself to the priest, and, as Moses commanded, make an offering for your cleansing, for a testimony to them.”

But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray. Luke 5:12-16

He has a name, but we don’t know it. We don’t know who he is or where he originally came from. And yet we know much about him. All the information required is summed up in the phrase, “a man covered with leprosy.”

The medical diagnosis doesn’t matter. All that matters is the following formula:

Personal suffering + Public shame + Public rejection + Social isolation = ________________

Such is the self-protective feature built into human community. It has been repeated, rightly or wrongly, for as long as any of us can remember. It is one thing when it is applied to a highly contagious disease (we have long known that Hansen’s Disease [leprosy] is only mildly contagious) but quite another when applied to people who just don’t quite fit in to the definition of “cultural norms.”

Jesus doesn’t play that game. Or better put, Jesus doesn’t give a rip about what the neighbors might think or what “people might say.”

The man stands before him and asks to be made clean. Fearlessly, Jesus TOUCHES him, and he is whole. Then, strangely, he tells him to tell no one. Or maybe not so strangely when you realize again that Jesus is not a self-promoter. He doesn’t seek to monetize his power to heal.

But what Jesus does do is respect the community’s tradition around the restoration of community. We could say much against the holiness code, the long list of Levitical dietary and social restrictions that separated the Israelites from others, but we need to recognize that there was always room for reconnection.

In other places we read this as Jesus “came not to remove the law but to fulfill it.”

Now consider the rest of the story that we aren’t told. The part where the man appears before his hometown priest. The gratitude he feels. The wonder the priest feels. The joy with which he is welcomed home by his family.

All of this is why the church is at its best when it refuses to be a source of public shame, public rejection, or social isolation. This is what healing looks like. And what healing requires.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, there is a long list of people who have been doubly hurt by the rejection and shunning of others. As you reached out to touch a leper, may we reach out to touch the untouchable, to be safe harbor for the suffering, and to be vocal allies standing with those who continue to face social rejection because of who they are. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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