Dave spoke this morning from Mark 1:40-45, an encounter between a leper and Jesus. Leprosy was one of the most devastating diseases recorded in the Bible, killing through destroying the nervous system so that limbs were lost, blindness occurred and destruction came, in effect, slowly and painlessly. It was a most disfiguring disease and lepers were treated as outcasts and shunned. They were considered ritually unclean and were not allowed to come near people or take part in collective worship. This lack of social contact and physical contact must have made life exceedingly difficult for a leper.
For this leper to approach Jesus during His public ministry took courage. He made his way through the crowds and said to Jesus, ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean.’ (Mark 1:40) He wanted to be able to take part in society again and knew that Jesus was his only hope.
Jesus healed people in many different ways, often simply by speaking a word of healing. Here, in touching the leper, He broke all the taboos of society and signified that He understood the importance of touch to the leper. Babies need human contact if they are to flourish; the tales of deprivation in Romanian orphanages in the 1990s showed us the terrible consequences of not giving babies the hugs and cuddles they need. Touch can be an important way of giving comfort, reassurance and affection (think of the way a mother hugs her child after it has fallen down in the mud or the way lovers constantly touch each other to convey their love), and in reaching out to the leper in this way, Jesus conveyed total acceptance and love. He tailors His response to our needs; He knows exactly what to do to minister to the whole person.
The Bible has other accounts of Jesus healing lepers (e.g. Luke 17:11-19), but in that narrative, the lepers remain far off, standing at a distance and shouting out to Jesus. Here, we see the benefits of drawing near to God and we have a vivid reminder that no one is too bad to come to Jesus. God can cleanse us and make us whole; He is most definitely willing to hear us when we call and responds when we draw near.