Scripture: When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” Matthew 8:1-4 ESV
Observation: In the above pericope (also found in Mark 1:40-45), Matthew notates that “great crowds” followed Jesus down the mount—reminding his reading audience that even though Christ’s message is challenging because he taught “as one who had authority” (7:29), the crowds hungered for more. The insertion of the leper story, immediately after verse 1’s time marker, reveals that Matthew prioritized themes over chronological order (in contrast to Mark’s historical running narrative). Otherwise, Christ’s instruction to the leper not to tell anyone of his miraculous healing would contradict the depiction of a crowd in this scene. Thus, we can understand that at a later point, Jesus heals the leper with only his disciples observing.
Of note, leprosy in Ancient Israel referred to any form of skin disease—not necessarily Hansen’s Disease, which is the medical term for our modern-day meaning of leprosy. Nevertheless, in Jesus’ day, a leper would have some form of contagious skin disease that, by Mosaic law, would require them to live a lonely existence in isolation from society.
Takeaway: Matthew begins Chapter 8 with three stories that reveal how Jesus’ kingdom is for everyone who believes he is Lord, whether those marginalized by disease (above verses) or ethnicity (vv.5-13, tomorrow’s Daily Focus). With this opening pericope, Matthew’s reading audience would be particularly amazed to learn that Jesus touched a diseased man—which would not only put him at risk of contracting this horrid disease but make him unclean under Levitical law. While this was not the first time a great prophet healed a leper, even Elisha did not touch his supplicant. When Naaman sought Elisha to find healing for his leprosy, Elisha sent a messenger to tell Naaman to wash seven times in the Jordan to find healing (2 Kings 5:10). Thus, Matthew wants his audience to know that Jesus is not just a prophet like Elisha but the Suffering Servant foretold by Isaiah. Indeed, at the end of the third story, Matthew writes, “This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took our illnesses and bore our diseases'” (8:17 ESV). And by instructing the healed man to follow the Mosiac law (presenting himself to the priest and offering his gift) but not himself following Levitical protocol, Jesus declares his authority over the law and his oneness with the Father.
But why did Jesus tell the man not to reveal how he became healed? Because timing is everything. Jesus knew that if the news spread rapidly, it would be difficult to complete his mission at the appointed time, with the crowds hindering his movement and garnering the attention of the jealous religious leaders.
So what is our takeaway? Jesus, our Suffering Servant, understands our plight and desires to heal us beyond our presenting problems by restoring us to a shalom wholeness. When we seek him, he touches us at the deepest part of our being, sometimes bringing complete physical healing but always restoring our spiritual well-being. But because we live in a fallen world, diseases will eventually consume our aging bodies. The good news is that Christ will be with us and in us no matter whether we live a long life with relatively good health or struggle with health issues that shorten our existence. Thus, regardless of our journey, we can know his peace that calms our fears, his joy that strengthens our exhausted minds, and his grace that sufficiently prepares us for eternity in his glorious presence where there is no more disease, death, or sorrow.
Prayer: Father God, we praise you, our Triune God who dwelled with us by your Son and is now in us by your Holy Spirit, intimately touching and healing our troubled souls and restoring to us the joy of our salvation. So would you please help us to keep seeking your Son in the highs and lows of life to know his Shalom wholeness and glorify him and you as you prepare us for eternity? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling