In one of the villages, Jesus met a man with an advanced case of leprosy. When the man saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground, begging to be healed. “Lord,” he said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”
Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared. Then Jesus instructed him not to tell anyone what had happened. He said, “Go to the priest and let him examine you. Take along the offering required in the law of Moses for those who have been healed of leprosy. This will be a public testimony that you have been cleansed.”
But despite Jesus’ instructions, the report of his power spread even faster, and vast crowds came to hear him preach and to be healed of their diseases. But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer. (Luke 5:12-16)
People flocked to hear Jesus preach and to have their diseases healed. This man with leprosy had an advanced case, so he undoubtedly had lost much bodily tissue. Still, he believed that Jesus could heal every trace of the disease.
Leprosy was a feared disease because there was no known cure for it, and some forms of it were highly contagious. Leprosy had a similar emotional impact and terror associated with it as AIDS does today. (Sometimes called Hansen’s disease, leprosy still exists today in a less contagious form that can be treated.) The priests monitored the disease, banishing lepers who were in a contagious stage to prevent the spread of infection, and readmitting lepers whose disease was in remission. Lepers were considered ritually unclean. Because leprosy destroys the nerve endings, lepers often would unknowingly damage their fingers, toes, and noses.
Lepers were considered untouchable because people feared contracting their disease. They were required to shout, “Unclean! Unclean!” as a warning to people to steer clear. Yet Jesus reached out and touched the leper to heal him.
We may consider certain people who are diseased or disabled to be “untouchable.” Yet all of us are “untouchable” in some way. When we stop separating people into categories (“us” versus “them”), we can see people through God’s compassion. Whom do you know who could benefit from God’s touch of love?