When he [Jesus] came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean." And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying "I will; be clean." And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them." - Matthew 8:1-4
I love this passage, and I have written about it before here on the blog. But this week, new things jumped out at me from these verses...
Everyone of us - either while we walk this earth, or afterward, when we stand on the brink of Glory - every single one of us WILL experience a one-on-one, face-to-face encounter with Jesus. And, as we encounter Jesus, everyone of us fits into one of two categories of people:
The competent man. This man is knowledgeable, righteous, justified in all his actions. He is whole and complete; he has no need to be healed. The religious leaders of Matthew's day were competent men.
The broken man. This man is diseased, despised, desperate. Not only is he incompetent, but he has no hope of making himself better. God himself has labeled this man - the leper - unclean; and because of his uncleanness, he is forced to live life separated from God and from God's people.
The first man - the competent man - needs no healing. And guess what: when the competent man encounters Jesus, Jesus does not heal him. Whole, healthy, righteous people don't NEED to be healed, right? When the Pharisees encountered Jesus, they sought no healing, and they received none.
The second man - the "leper" - is desperately aware of his need for healing. And guess what: when the broken man encounters Jesus, Jesus heals him.
The truth is, ALL of us sons and daughters of Adam are broken. We are all lepers. We are all unclean. The question I face today is: will I deny my brokenness, thus denying myself the healing that only Jesus can provide - or - will I acknowledge my brokenness, and, like the leper, ask Jesus to make me clean?
The broken man - the leper in this passage - knows his desperate need. Although commanded by the law to stand apart from others because of his uncleanness, the leper pushed his way through the crowd until he stood before Jesus. This was an act of desperation.
The broken man approaches Jesus humbly, reverently - the leper knelt before Jesus.
The broken man recognizes that Jesus has the power to heal him - "Lord...you can make me clean" - and yet, the broken man asks with humility - "Lord, if you will..."
The broken man is not demanding. He does not pray: Heal me, Lord! Now!
He is not presumptuous. He does not assert: If I ask with faith, then God must grant what I ask.
He is submissive. The broken man submits himself, in speech, manner, and deed, to God's will rather than his own: Lord, if you will...
In response to the broken man's desperate, humble, reverent, submissive prayer, Jesus reaches out his hand and touches the man - Jesus TOUCHES him! - and says, "I will; be clean."
[Do you understand the magnitude of what Jesus has just done?! I am weeping as I write this, people. Excuse me for a minute...I need to step away from the computer and sing The Doxology.]
Jesus touches the man - the broken man, the leper - and heals him. But that's not the end of this story. Jesus then says, "See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them."
Jesus would not make a very good book agent. He does not say, "Now, friend, you need to schedule interviews with all the major TV networks and then secure a movie deal for your story."
Instead, Jesus commands this man, a man who has long lived outside the community of believers, to join in public worship, at the temple, with God's people.
And how is the healed leper to worship?
"...offer the gift that Moses commanded..." - If you look back in Leviticus, chapter 14, you discover that the process a priest went through to determine if a leper could be declared "clean" was complicated. It was messy. And, it was public.
In other words, although the leper had been healed, declared clean by Jesus himself, although this man was now a member of the community of faith, Jesus basically instructed him: "Testify to your brokenness."
Why, Lord? Why must I share my diseased and broken past with others? Why not forget the past, let bygones be bygones? Why can I not now just let others see that I am healed, whole, righteous, complete...
Wait a minute. That sounds awfully like the competent man, doesn't it, so desperately wanting to convince others that he's okay.
Why is the healed leper called to such outrageous, humbling, visible, joyful worship?
"...for a proof to them."
* * *
I am living proof that Jesus can and will touch a leper and make her clean.
But you won't appreciate that truth - you won't be amazed at how the story ends, and be moved to worship God yourself - if I don't start back at the beginning of the story...
And so, I must own my brokenness again, and again, and again. Not because my brokenness defines who I am, but because it testifies to the power of the Savior who redefines who I am, by bringing me into union with Himself. Not because I glory in my uncleanness, but because I glory in the Lord, who said to me, "I will; be clean."
* * *
And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean." And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying "I will; be clean."