Lepers in Our World

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!” (Mark 1:40-41 NLT)

The man’s name is unknown. He is just “leper” to us—unnamed and unclean. He approaches Jesus. It is an audacious step. Lepers are supposed to stay out of the way, unnoticed and unseen. There must have been something about Jesus that emboldened the leper to come to him. And the man is not disappointed.

Jesus responds with kindness. He is motivated from a heart of compassion—not from arrogant condescension (“Poor pitiful guy,” deep sigh, “I guess I can help”) or from duty (“I am a Christian, I have to be nice”), but from a heart broken for the lost, the least, the leper. In this passage we see Jesus do four things in his response to the man.

1) Jesus reached out. In the leper’s world people don’t reach out. They recoil. People don’t move toward lepers, they move away. But Jesus is different. Jesus reached out.

2) Jesus touched him. The holy, holy, holy touched the unclean, unclean, unclean. He didn’t just give a glance or write a check. He put his skin onto the leper’s skin. When was the last time that leper had felt another’s touch?

3) Jesus spoke. He said two things. First: “I am willing.” Nothing obligated the Son of God to help this son of man. Nothing, except that Jesus was willing to be “moved with compassion.” Second, since compassion prompts action, Jesus says, “Be healed.” The power of the Holy God met the weakness of the unholy man and everything changed.

4) Jesus healed. In an era when leprosy had no cure, at a time when lepers faced a lifetime of deterioration and isolation, Jesus did the impossible. He took all that was wrong and made it right.

As I read this passage with fresh eyes, I find that, in some ways, I am both characters in this story. I am the leper. Damaged and deformed. Unable to be a part of the true life because of my uncleanness, I lurk in the shadows hoping no one will notice the rotting places in my soul. And like the desperate man here, I too, must take the risk and take my place at the feet of Jesus. Not just one time, but everyday, I must make my confession to Christ: “If you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”

I am also Christ’s ambassador, one he has appointed to represent him to the discarded in soul, discouraged in heart, disfigured in body, damaged in mind. Who are the lepers in my world? Do I even see them? Is there enough Jesus in me that they would feel compelled to approach me? And if so, what is my response? Does his compassion for the cast-out motivate me to reach out? In what ways can Jesus touch their hearts through the touch of my hands? What words of hope and healing will Christ speak through my lips?

If you, too, are wanting to be an ambassador for Christ among the outcasts in your world, one thing is for sure, you will need to move out of your comfort zone and walk into a different world.  You may need to do some research to find ministries that are working among the forgotten and learn how to join with them. Homeless shelters, food banks, pregnancy centers, inner city schools are always watching for people with the love of Jesus to reach out, to touch, to speak, to heal. Will you go?

Carol Dowsett is a career missionary with Wycliffe Bible Translators and a professional communications consultant, having worked for nearly 25 years in global communication leadership roles. She has served with agencies such as Wycliffe International, SIL International, Forum of Bible Agencies International, Bible League International, Christar, and the Well Community. She is a frequent teacher of Reflective Bible Studies and has been a lay leader of women's discipleship and prayer ministries in various churches. An advocate to the Church for mental health awareness, she has served as a support group leader with Mental Health Grace Alliance. With her family, she lived in Nairobi, Kenya for three years and now makes her home near Dallas, Texas. Married for 45 years, she and Jim have four adult children and six grandchildren.