When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. 2 And behold, a leper[a] came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 3 And Jesus[b] stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4 And Jesus said to him,“See that you say nothing to anyone, but go,show yourself to the priest andoffer the gift that Moses commanded,for a proof to them.”
5 When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, 6 “Lord, my servant is lying paralysed at home, suffering terribly.” 7 And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” 8 But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go’, and he goes, and to another, ‘Come’, and he comes, and to my servant,[c] ‘Do this’, and he does it.” 10 When Jesus heard this, he marvelled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel[d] have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.
Jesus Heals Many
14 And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. 15 He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. 16 That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. 17 This was to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”
Lepers, Gentiles, Women, Everyone
I have psoriasis. I have had it from childhood. I also have a crooked finger because I broke a tendon when I was 13. I am unclean. That is, I am ceremonially unclean. If you touched me in the ancient Jewish system, you would not be able to offer a sacrifice without cleansing yourself. Unless you were Jesus. Jesus’ purity washed away the spiritual and physical impurities in others. He wanted to keep it quiet because people would misunderstand what he was about. However, he couldn’t help healing people by virtue of who he was.
Some people didn’t want a low-life, itinerant Rabbi from the backwaters healing them, but many more began to seek him out. Leprosy is a term used in the Bible to describe conditions like psoriasis, ringworm, dermatosis, lupus and other skin conditions that we have cream or shampoo for today. Hansen’s disease (what we usually call leprosy) was extremely rare. Most people who had to walk with a bell and cover their face and make sure no-one touched them were people more like you and me than we realise.
Who is this Jesus character? He cares for the outcasts and he has authority over sicknesses that science would take centuries to treat. He was unafraid to cross purity boundaries. He entered into places where people suffered and he made a difference. Maybe his disciples were grateful enough that they decided they would get out of their comfort zones, but that came later. For now, at this point in Matthew, even those who knew him realise that they know very little of what he is capable.
Jesus then heals a Roman centurion’s servant and the mother-in-law of a disciple. Jesus takes on their sickness like a sponge but his purity crushes their impurity.
- Does Jesus go to a leper or does a leper come to him? Why?
- Why does the centurion come to Jesus if he is not Jewish? Why does Jesus respond as he does?
- Who are the subjects who presume they are disciples of the kingdom, but who will be thrown out?
- What misconceptions did people have about lepers, gentiles, and women and their role as disciples?
- Examine yourself. Do you think you presume you make a better disciple than crippled people, Arabs, the opposite sex, children, convicts, prostitutes, or used-car dealers? Would you do what Jesus did and reach out to them to give them the opportunity to become disciples? Do you?
What can Protestants learn from the vicarious suffering of Catholic Father Damien who worked with lepers for 16 years before contracting the disease himself?