“After he came down from the mountain, large crowds followed him. And a leper approached, and bowed low before him, saying, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” He stretched out his hand and touched him saying, “I am willing. Be clean!” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed.” (Matthew 8:1-4)
In Matthew Chapters 5-7, The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declares how his kingdom will be a reversal of many of the cultural norms, teachings and religious traditions of Judaism the people held and followed. He taught them many of the reversals: Mourn-Comforted, meek-inherit, hunger-satisfied, blessed-persecuted, do not break you oath-do not make an oath, eye for an eye-turn your cheek, hate your enemy- pray for your enemy…ect.
Immediately in the first verse of chapter 8, he does not just declare the reversal his kingdom requires, he demonstrates it. Jesus has an encounter with a leper. Those with leprosy in that time were outcasts of society. They were labeled “unclean” and had to walk around shouting “Unclean!” wherever they went. Uncleanliness was a huge issue in Judaism. It is at the core of many of the teachings in Leviticus and controlled much of the daily life and rituals of the Jews. The Jewish religion and the people held the deep belief that if something clean touched something unclean, the clean became unclean. If someone or something that was clean, touched or contacted something that was unclean, some sort of ritual purification was required to make the clean person or thing that was now unclean because of contact with something unclean, clean again. And until the ritual was performed to make you clean again, your were shunned and isolated from your community.
In Matthew 8: 1-4 we find Jesus followed by and in the middle of a large crowd. An unclean leper, shouting “unclean!, unclean!” somehow makes it through the crowd and approached Jesus. Jesus finds himself face to face with this leper in the middle of the large crowd. The leper asks Jesus to heal him. This story is also told in Mark 1:40-42. In Mark it states Jesus was“Moved with compassion.” In most translations of this story in Matthew the Greek word ἰδού (idou) is not translated because it has no exact English equivalent here. It means something like a deep sigh or a gasp. The leper knelt before Jesus and as he looks around at the crowds and how this poor person has been shunned, he sighs deeply as this is not how his people were supposed to have acted. Then Jesus does something un-thinkable. He touches the leper. Jesus was the only one who sighed or gasped when the leper kneeled in front of him, but I guarantee you everyone in the large crowd, sighed, gasped, and shrieked when they watched Jesus touch the leper.
And here was the great reversal; In Jesus touching the leper, something clean touched something unclean and the clean did not become unclean, the unclean became clean! This was huge! It struck at this foundation understanding in Judaism. Jesus forever changed that paradigm to something clean touching something unclean makes it clean!
Jesus came to the earth, was incarnated in human flesh and became Immanuel, God with us, so he could intimately embrace that which was unclean and make it clean. And praise God he included me in that embrace and he includes you! And we who have been embraced by Jesus and made clean, were not made clean to be set aside, and congregate with the clean in sanctuaries, but embrace the unclean in mangers.
Read Matthew chapters 5-7 and look at the reversals Jesus’ sermon was declaring his kingdom required. Read Matthew 8:1-4 and see the reversal Jesus demonstrated. Then pray and reflect on how Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out his hand and touched you when you knelt before him in an unclean, broken state and spoke over you, “I am willing. Be clean!” (Mark 1:40). You are called to carry Christ into your community and embrace those that are unclean and make them clean. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal what traditions, cultural norms, religious practices you are clinging to that are keeping you from embracing the unclean and need to be reversed. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you those in your community you are called to embrace.
Jesus came to the earth, was incarnated in human flesh and became Immanuel, God with us, so he could intimately embrace that which was unclean and make it clean. That is the message of Christmas. That is a message we all need to hear, be reminded of, and obey.
Please share any reflections of comments you have in the comments box below.