As I reflect on the interchange of Jesus and the leper (Luke 5), I am stirred deep within. In my mind I can see the interchange, hear the words, witness the exchange of looks, the touch, the love, the joy…it is a marvelous story. Jesus takes time for the outcasts of society; He touches the untouchable, loves the unlovely and the unlovable. I instinctively know this is what it means to be Christ-like, to love one another, to regard another as more important than one’s self, that is what it means to “live Jesus”. This passage is a challenge to be kind, caring and loving toward others, especially those who are outcasts of society - to the “least of these”.
Yet there is another message for me in this passage, a life transforming, freedom giving, grace empowering truth. If I am willing to look a little deeper into the story, a little deeper into myself, I will discover a truth both wonderful and shocking. As I look honestly within myself, I discover I am the leper…disfigured by my own choices, my own sin, marred by the words and cruelty of others, mangled by church messages of guilt, shame, condemnation, terrorized and battered by media images of perfection and success. I am left thinking and feeling deep within, “Who would want to love me, even touch me?” Jesus’ words speak beyond this perceived and real ugliness, touching my very heart and soul. If I am desirous, willing to be cleansed, Jesus is willing to cleanse me, to heal me, to use His power and time for my well-being, my wholeness – for me! What a great and glorious gift! Jesus chooses to transform me from “leper” into a new creation, a masterpiece of His making.
As wonderful as this is, it is nothing compared to Jesus’ actions prior to this divine and gracious use of His power. It is through these interchanges that Jesus captures my heart. Jesus stops and gives me His undivided attention. He ceases from His days activities, acknowledging me to be of value, importance, worthy of His time, the time of one sent from God, the time of a great teacher, prophet, healer, the time of God. God takes time for me! Jesus hears, receives and values me. Jesus takes my words, my being into His very heart and allows both to touch and move Him to personal acts of caring and love. My words are important to Jesus. I am important to Jesus.
Even more than this, Jesus touches me not out of pity, but out of an overwhelming compassion for me. Jesus touches me not out of ignorance, but out of a deep knowing of who I truly am. Jesus touches me with tender, caring, and caressing love. This touch is so powerful because it does not come after the miracle of my cleansing but before. Jesus doesn’t wait to embrace me when I am whole, beautiful and clean. Jesus lovingly, tenderly touches me when I am disfigured, when I hesitate to even touch myself, love myself, or like myself. Wow!
Even now after I have been touched by Jesus, there are times I still feel unclean, ugly, when the disfigurement of my own choices and the cruel words of others ring in my ears. It is then I recall the story of Jesus and the leper, the story of Jesus and me. I remember the listening, the caring, the touch of Jesus when I was disfigured, when I felt unloved, ugly, not important, and it is in that moment that Jesus comes to me yet again and touches me with tenderness, compassion and reassurance. It is then Jesus reminds me that I am valued and loved.