Recently my wife, Barb, had the privilege of giving a talk to the middle schoolers at our Church. As she prepped for the talk, she read it to me. My immediate thought: “I need to include it in a blog post.” So, here it is…
When I got engaged to my husband, Curt, he was hanging out with high school-age kids from our church and kids who didn’t go to church. He loved them so much that he eventually went on to get a job in youth ministry. Most of my married life has been spent around a lot of teenagers!
I grew to love the kids too and eventually took some girls to camp. When we got back, we started a weekly Bible study in my home. Some of the girls had started a relationship with Jesus at camp and a couple others weren’t sure what they thought of him.
Colossians 1:15 says Jesus is the visible expression of the invisible God. So if we want to know what God is like we need to take a good look at Jesus. What made him mad, what made him sad, and even happy? How did he treat people? What kind of people did he spend his time with? How can anyone really know if they can trust God unless they spend time getting to know him first?
With my group of girls, we started by looking into the Gospels to get to know Jesus. There are four books in the New Testament called the Gospels. Two of the Gospels were written by men who spent a lot of time with Jesus; one was written by someone who lived during Jesus’ life and later became a follower; and one was written by a doctor who also became a follower, talking to all sorts of people who had spent time with Jesus, gathering information so he too could write an account of Jesus’ life.
So I’d like us to take a look at one story about Jesus told in three of the Gospels. I think it might be an important story since it is in three of them.
This story is about a leper. You’ve maybe heard the term ‘leper’ before but unless we know what it was like to be a leper in Jesus’ day we can’t possibly understand what a big deal it was for Jesus to heal him.
Leprosy was considered to be a curse from God. So lepers would have believed that God was angry at them and punishing them for something they did.
Lepers were shunned by others, meaning they weren’t allowed to live with their family or friends. They had to live outside their community with other lepers. They couldn’t go to school or work. Now you might think that doesn’t sound so bad until you understand that the reason they couldn’t work or go to school was because the disease caused them to have extremely ugly, and very painful sores on their skin. It affected their nervous system and eventually caused them to lose their fingers or limbs. It was a horrific disease.
Now the townspeople cared for lepers by bringing them food but they didn’t go near them and they never touched them. Someone who had leprosy would have to keep their distance from everyone else and if they did approach someone, they would have to ring a bell and call out “Unclean, unclean.”
Will you please close your eyes for a minute and imagine having painful sores all over your body? Now, imagine that you are going through that pain alone. You are living with others who are in pain as well, but you are not with your loved ones. And now lastly, think about what it would be like if you had to ring a bell to announce yourself and let others know you are unclean. I can’t think of many things that would make me feel more self-conscience.
In the story, the leper has heard that Jesus can heal people. He must have been feeling desperate because he took a chance on Jesus. Remember Jesus represented God and lepers believed God was punishing them for some sin. But he took a chance. Listen to the brief story as told in Matthew, Chapter 8…
1 When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. 2 A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” 3 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy.
Isn’t that a nice story? The leper is healed, and all is well. Except if you were the leper, you have a much deeper wound than even the horrible disease of leprosy. No one would have come close to you let alone hugged you for as long as you had the disease.
When the leper approached Jesus, he no doubt kept his distance, and we know he took a position of humility by kneeling. Some translations say he begged Jesus to heal him. Jesus could have healed him from exactly where he was standing but that isn’t what he did.
This is the part I love – Jesus touched the leper. He healed the man in the place he was the most wounded, his heart. After years of being shunned, keeping his distance from people, and being fed like a dog but not loved like one, he was healed of the physical and emotional pain he had experienced all those years.
He was fed like a dog but not loved like one.
Jesus not only healed him and treated him with dignity, but he also contradicted what society thought about lepers. Jesus communicated that God was not angry at him.
Whom do you relate to most in this story? The leper or someone who kept their distance. How might this change the way you see Jesus? Or yourself?