When one reads through the accounts of Jesus, they will find numerous instances where we see Jesus teaching, either to the crowds or to the disciples. They will find several instances where Jesus is at a meal with a person or group of persons, again, often teaching. They will find numerous accounts of Jesus performing some sort of miracle. With most of His miracles comes some sort of teaching by Jesus, often through the miraculous act. As we read today’s account of Jesus and the leper, the theme is no different. We see Jesus perform a miracle and we also see teaching of Jesus.
Mark begins by telling us that a leper came to Jesus. You have to wonder how this leper made it this close to Jesus. By being a leper, he was ceremonially unclean and therefore banished from the city or town’s population until he became clean again. The Levitical law demanded that whenever they came near people, they had to cry out, “Unclean, unclean!” Should they ever experience healing, they were required to show themselves to the priests to determine whether they were actually healed or not.
The man who approached Jesus did not cry out, “Unclean,” and we can understand why. In his great distress, he did not want anyone to stop him from coming to the one he had recognized as being able to do what no one else could do, namely, heal him. Falling on his knees before Jesus, expressing his faith that Jesus had divine power and authority to heal and also expressing his own dire need, he cried out, “If you will, you can make me clean.” He acknowledged Christ’s power to heal but did not demand this gift from Him. Instead, he cast himself entirely on Christ’s mercy.
This leper is the complete opposite of us when it comes to Jesus. He leaves it up to Jesus to heal him. For us, we demand of God to provide for us. We look to God and Jesus as our personal dispenser of everything, granting to us whatever we want, whenever we want it. That is not how God works. Yes, “He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life,” as Luther says. But why does He do this? Luther continues, “All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.” What did Luther not say? He didn’t say that God does this because you up and demanded it from Him. He didn’t say that God does this because you asked in a nice tone of voice. Luther says that God does this apart from you, out of His “fatherly, divine goodness and mercy.” You don’t even enter into that equation. This is all about God.
For the leper going to Jesus, he doesn’t ask Jesus to cleanse him. He doesn’t demand that Jesus cleanse him. He doesn’t bank on his past and speak of all that he has done for God. He doesn’t make promises about the future, promising to devote his life to Jesus. He merely states that Jesus has the power and authority to do so and waited for the mercy of Christ to be shown.
Jesus has mercy on those who are outcast and considered unclean. Throughout the Scriptures, we see Jesus come to the aid of those rejected by others. Jesus feeds the multitudes the disciples would have sent away. Jesus sits with sinners and eats with them. Jesus takes little children into His arms and blesses them, though they are considered a bother. Jesus comes to the home of Zacchaeus the tax collector, one who is greatly despised because of who he is and what he does, and still chooses to dine with him.
Jesus is willing to defile Himself for the sake of those He came to save. Jesus looks with mercy on the man with leprosy and with indignation on those who are complacent and judgmental. Jesus reached out beyond the climate of the society and touched the man with leprosy, even though this would have made Jesus ceremonially unclean. Jesus was not concerned for His own well-being or what others would think of Him. He brought His Word and often times His healing to the people, regardless of the consequences. Mark tells us, “And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.” The cleansing process was not gradual. The disease fled as the words left Jesus’ lips.
In the same way that Jesus touches and heals the man with leprosy, Jesus touches and heals you immediately. You have been shown the mercy of Christ. Jesus touches us on the cross of Calvary, where He takes our sin and every disease upon Himself, where He defiles Himself for us, and where He becomes the outcast of God for our sake. Jesus touches you and shows you His mercy when God called you to be His own child in the waters of Holy Baptism. You were shown that mercy when you hear that your sins have been forgiven you. You were shown that mercy when our Lord gives to you His very body and blood for you to eat and drink which gives to you forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. You were shown that mercy when our Lord went to the cross in order to redeem you, “a lost and condemned person, purchased and won [you] from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.”
By birth we share a common moral uncleanness. We were helpless to avoid the sin that separated us from the saved people of God. Daily we rebel against our Maker. Our sins are as real as the shiny white spots on the leper’s skin. We must cry out to God and the world that we are unclean, as did the lepers of old. The gracious mystery of the Christ is that He did not come to condemn us. Instead, He touched us. And with His Word and His Sacraments, He healed us and brought us back into communion with the Father and God’s people.
In stark contrast to a society and culture that separates itself from those they judge to be “unclean,” Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, steps out of heaven and into the lives of those in need and who are shunned by others. Jesus looks on those He came to save with mercy and compassion. He reaches out beyond the social norms, even at His own risk. Jesus dirties Himself – He defiles Himself – and He touches you. He heals you. He takes away your sin and blemish, presenting you to His Father and declaring you “clean.” In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.