“Then a man with leprosy came to him and, on his knees, begged him, ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean.’ Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched him. ‘I am willing,’ he told him. ‘Be made clean.’”
— Mark 1:40-41 (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever tried to solve a problem? That’s a silly question. Of course you have. In many ways, life is about problem-solving. We encounter one challenge—problem—after another, and have to figure out how to overcome it. We are living in a season now when this is even more true than it has been in a long time. School systems in particular are operating in a problem-solving mode all the time these days. The thing about solving problems, though, is that there is a way to do it well and a way to do it poorly. Jesus demonstrates the former for us here. Let’s see how.
In a day before any kind of modern understanding of diseases, all kinds of bad ideas dominated the mental marketplace. One that persisted for centuries of human history was that leprosy was spread by physical contact. That’s not actually the case medically speaking, but no one wanted to risk it, so the idea stuck.
The net result was that leprosy was not just a terrible physical diagnosis, but an even worse social one. Lepers were forced to live on the outskirts of town. Anywhere they went that might bring them into range of another person they had to shout, “Unclean! Unclean!” so that everyone knew they were coming and could get out of the way. It was enforced social distancing long before it was cool.
Let me ask this: Can you imagine living your life without any human contact? No one to shake your hand, pat you on the back, give you a hug, or anything else along those lines? I mean, today we actually can imagine that to a certain degree because of COVID, but it’s been awful. And most of us are able to get at least some reprieve from family members. Not so for a leper in the ancient world… or frankly even the modern world through not all that long ago.
For good, observant Jews, making contact with a leper would have not merely broken social customs. It would have shattered religious boundaries as well. That simple touch could render someone ceremonially unclean and thus unable to participate in any worship activities at the temple or synagogue. This was a double whammy that resulted in a generally total ostracism of anyone even suspected of leprosy.
So, when this man comes up to Jesus asking to be healed, what both he and everyone around the two of them expected was for Jesus to tell him to buzz off. Certainly He would have been well within His rights and even moral obligations to do as much. But Jesus was Jesus and so things didn’t go quite like that.
When he came up to Jesus and asked to be healed, Jesus didn’t just say the word and send him away. He reached out and touched him. He got involved in the problem in a very real and meaningful way. The result was that the man went away whole in more ways than he expected.
This was how Jesus’ love always worked. Jesus’ love drove Him to love the unlovable, to touch the untouchable, because in the kingdom of God, everyone is welcome. The Father comes to us and gets involved in our lives. This was the whole theme of Jesus’ ministry. Humanity had a problem called sin and God knew the only way to solve this one was to get involved in as intimate and personal a way as He could. He got right at the root of the issue. He came as one of us, experienced everything we experience, and made things right from the inside out.
This all reminds us not just of God’s incredible love for us. It reminds us that the way to solve some problems is not to remain distant and detached. Some things you can’t simply throw money at and walk away. Some problems require us to get involved. They require our touch in a way that goes beyond not just what might make us uncomfortable, but beyond what anyone around us believes to be reasonable. This isn’t easy to be sure. But there isn’t any other way we are going to find a solution that brings meaningful relief.
You and I live in a world of problems. Some are our own, many come from the people around us. If we are going to be a part of the solution in the name of the Gospel, we’re going to have to get involved. This requires wisdom and humility in abundance. We can’t just pot shot things from the outside looking in. We have to get involved. It’s what Jesus did. It’s what Jesus does. Let us follow His lead and be a part of the solution.