Lepers and Freedom from Legalism

Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean….

Reflections on Luke 5:12-15

So, this just happened:

Because I’m thorough in my research, I went to the source of all medical knowledge WebMD (lol) and looked up leprosy.

Leprosy is an infectious disease that causes severe, disfiguring skin sores and nerve damage in the arms, legs, and skin areas around the body. The disease has been around since ancient times, often surrounded by terrifying, negative stigmas and tales of leprosy patients being shunned as outcasts.

As I’m reading this information about leprosy, an ad for cold sore medicine came on. It featured some perfect model lady with a tiny little cold sore. The ad basically acted like she was now a hideous freak who should hide away in her room until their quick acting cold sore medicine kicked in.  

So…I’m thinking, in our modern world, we may have lost sight of how bad things were for ancient people with leprosy.

Imagine with me for a moment what life would have been like for an ancient person with leprosy:

 

You would have been an outcast in your society. You had to live in a leper colony. There were no jobs for lepers, just scrounging for food and begging. You lost contact with your family If you ventured out of the leper colony, you had to yell out “unclean” every time you saw another person so that no one would get too close to you. People wouldn’t even want to breathe the same air as you.

In addition to the horrible, incurable disease and the isolation from society, some ancient Jewish religious leaders taught that:

  1. You deserved the disease because of sin in your life.
  2. There was no cure and no way for you to be cleansed from your unclean-ness. All that a priest could do was declare that you were indeed clean if you were somehow cured or had been misdiagnosed. (Oops sorry! It was just an allergic reaction. Turns out you aren’t damned after all.)

In other words, if you have leprosy we can’t do anything for you. You have been judged unclean, it’s your fault and there’s nothing you can do to become clean.  We certainly can’t help you. Also, stay away from us!

I find it incredibly interesting to apply that cultural context to the story of Luke 5:12-15.

Jesus is hanging out in town and a man with leprosy comes along. When he sees Jesus, he falls with his face to the ground before Jesus. The man begs Jesus to “make him clean”. 

He doesn’t say, “heal me”. He says “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Why?

The implication is, “Jesus, you can do what the law and the priests are powerless to do…if you are willing.”

The man must have recognized that Jesus was indeed the Messiah and that he had the power. What he didn’t know was if Jesus wanted to heal him.

For me, who has heard stories of Jesus my whole life, it seems almost comical for the man to say, if you are willing.

This is Jesus. Of course, he is willing. That’s what Jesus does right? He walks around irritates the religious leaders, tells stories and heals people.

But, when it’s me as an individual, bringing ALL of my struggles to him… it doesn’t seem so obvious.

It’s easy to recognize that Jesus has the power to do things. Most people can logically recognize that there has to be a greater power at work in the universe than just us. If that power is God; and Jesus is him in human form then; yeah, of course he CAN…


But is he willing…?

That’s what we have a hard time accepting.

In verse 13, Jesus said “I am willing.” And he healed the man.

Then, things get even more interesting…

He told the man not to tell anyone what had happened but to go to the temple and present himself to the priest. “and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing as a testimony to them.” (vs. 14)

The dude was already clean. Why did he need to go to the temple and go through the rituals which the religious leaders had already determined were powerless to do anything?

Jesus said the sacrifices would be a testimony to the religious leaders. They would have to declare this man clean. They would have to let him back in and admit that something greater than their religious observance had occurred.

What strict religious observance could not do, Jesus did in an instant.

Christians love to claim this truth, but we struggle in living it out. We definitely don’t practice ancient Jewish law in order to feel “clean”, accepted, saved, righteous, or “in”. (I mean, I don’t know any Christians who currently offer animal sacrifices.)

But we still have our rituals and rules that we think make us clean.

I grew up thinking it was all about church attendance. Partly because it was such a miserable, boring experience for my ADD brain that I felt sure God had to be giving me some major points for enduring church each week.

I spent a lot of my adult life trying really hard to be “in” with God by being “in” with church. It turns out, the rules, rituals, and judgments, may be able to point us to a need for God, but they are still pretty powerless to actually change anything.

It still comes back to putting all of your huge messy life in front of Jesus and saying, “If you are willing, you can take my lack of focus, my insecurity, my constant comparisons to others, my ADD, my sins I don’t want to share on the internet, and all my messy past and future…and you can make it clean!”

And believing not only, CAN he, but

HE IS completely WILLING!

 

Blessings my friends,

Cindy

Thanks for reading and sharing!

About The Author

Cindy

I am a really strange mix of a hippie, Calypso, Southern Belle, Madea- wannabe, Christian with the attitude of a Rhode Islander! I’m fascinated with people’s stories, I love to laugh at life with people and I’m genuinely trying to follow Jesus’ teachings. Strangely, my search for truth often has me at odds with American Christians who believe themselves to be the guardians of this truth. I was kicked out of Sunday School as a child for asking too many questions. I learned to repress them but my questions never went away. Thankfully as an adult, I feel completely free to pursue answers. Turns out, God is pretty big and not nearly as upset with my questions as his followers tend to be!

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