A man with leprosy came and knelt in front of Jesus, begging to be healed. “If you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean,” he said. Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” Instantly the leprosy disappeared, and the man was healed.
~ Mark 1:40-42 (NLT)
When I was in Seminary, I had a friend who lived across the hall from me in the men’s dorm. To put it mildly, this friend of mine was a slob. His bathroom could very well have been the center of all that is disgusting in the world. I half-expected to come out of my room one morning and see police tape across his door with a big sign posted, “Condemned by the E.P.A.”
Let me briefly describe his bathroom. (If you have just eaten, you may want to skip this part.) Now, understand, my friend was kind of a hairy guy so there was hair all over this little room. Moreover, the mirror just behind the restroom sink had about a year supply of tooth paste spittle on it. You couldn’t even see your reflection anymore. The sink itself was several shades of gross. The trashcan may never have been emptied, and I can’t even bring myself to tell you about the toilet seat!
Why do I bring this up? Well, one day a poor unsuspecting seminarian was visiting my friend and asked if he could use his bathroom. He entered in. After a few moments he came back out ashen faced and screaming “Unclean! Unclean!”
Shouting “unclean” was that seminary student’s attempt at humor. In Bible times, if you were to touch something considered “unclean” by Old Testament Law, you had to scream out, “Unclean! Unclean!” This let people know to stay away from you because if they touched you, they would become unclean as well. (Rabbis even taught that being downwind from an unclean person could make you unclean.) So if you had leprosy, which was considered the apex of “unclean,” you had to scream out “Unclean! Unclean!” whenever you came to town. At the sound of your voice, all would scatter.
With that in mind, take a moment and think about the leper you just read about in the above Scripture. Try to imagine what his life would have been like. As a leper, he would have had to live outside of the city so as not to “contaminate” anyone. When he came into town, he would have to scream out “unclean” so that all would know his condition and flee. Imagine the loneliness, the despair.
Imagine also that at one time he was not a leper. Perhaps he was once known for his brilliant smile and his joyful laugh. Perhaps he was once known for his tall frame and bronze skin. But one day a white spot appeared on that bronze arm, and it started to spread. Flesh began to rot and peel. His family, fearing contamination, kicked him out of their home. He tried to go to his friends, but they wanted nothing to do with a leper. He was an outcast.
For untold years, he suffered all alone outside the city. He longed for human contact, but that was unthinkable. One day, however, unable to take the loneliness anymore, he donned a robe and pulled a hood over his infected scalp. He tucked his diseased hands into the sleeves to conceal his decaying flesh and moved cautiously into town. He just wanted to hear people speaking. He just wanted to see children playing and laughing. He just wanted to remember what life used to be like.
But even with his disguise, someone recognized him, “Leper!” At the sound of that word, women scream and grab their children. Men turn and pick up rocks. Pelting the man, they drive him back out of town. Once again, the man is alone in his suffering. All seems hopeless. He is dirty. He is unclean. He is unwanted. His life is over.
Or is it? He begins to hear about a man named Jesus who talks with lepers, eats with lepers, and even heals lepers. In desperation, this man runs to this Jesus, falls to his knees, and begs to be healed. “If You want to, You can make me well again.”
What Jesus does next was unthinkable in Bible times. Did you catch it in the Scripture? He touches the leper. This man considered unclean; this man despised by all others; this man who has gone without human touch for untold years, Jesus touches him and says those beautiful words, “I want to.”
What more encouraging words could you find in all of Scripture? “I want to.”
Perhaps you think that if you came to Jesus with all the sins you’ve tried so desperately to hide for so long, He will reject you. Perhaps you think that if you fell before Jesus with all your problems and struggles you’ve grown so weary of trying to cover up that He will snub His nose at you. Perhaps you wonder how Jesus would react if you, the mess that you are, were to cry out, “Jesus, if You want to, You can make me well again.”
I have wondered these things myself. Would He chastise me, lecture me, rebuke me, or send me away? What would Jesus do? Here is the blessed answer of what He did for me. He reached out to me. He touched me in my filth and brokenness. With compassion in His voice, he spoke those infinitely precious words, “Oh My child, I want to.”
Guess what? He is prepared to do the same for you.