Luke 5: 12 – 16 Jesus heals a man with leprosy
While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ And immediately the leprosy left him.
Then Jesus ordered him, ‘Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.’
Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their illnesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
* * *
The NIV translation that I use has a footnote to this passage that says: “The Greek word traditionally translated ‘leprosy’ was used for various diseases affecting the skin”. I see no reason to doubt that statement. As the NIV continues to use the description leprosy I shall follow their example.
Leviticus 13 describes the symptoms, and the actions that had to be taken when a case was discovered. If you were diagnosed with leprosy you had to live alone outside a centre of population (Leviticus 13: 45 – 46), and you were ritually unclean.
It was a horrible diagnosis to receive because you could no longer participate in community life, and above all you couldn’t take part in worship. Nevertheless, the Law of Moses recognised that some people did recover, and Leviticus 14 explains what they needed to do to be accepted back into the community.
When the leper of this story in St Luke’s gospel met Jesus, he threw himself full length with his face to the ground, and begged to be healed. There was no doubting his faith that Jesus could heal him, but he obviously felt unworthy. ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’ He may have felt that he had sinned badly to have deserved the punishment of leprosy; that would have been a common point of view at that time.
For Jesus, though, what mattered was the man’s faith. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’
Jesus healed the leper. Not merely did he cleanse him, but he reminded him of what he still needed to do to be accepted back into the worshipping community of Israel: ‘… go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.’ Jesus had dealt with the physical cleansing, but, because the now-healed leper still lived under the Law of Moses he had to take the correct actions to be made ritually clean.
“For Jesus, though, what mattered was the man’s faith.”
I find myself wondering whether that’s the whole story. Many times, I and my friends have prayed earnestly for the healing of people we know. We have faith that Jesus can and does heal, and yet it is only rarely that we see physical healing. What about all those occasions when people are not healed?
I suggest, tentatively, that there is always some form of healing, often spiritual and at a level that we can’t easily see. On those rare occasions when there is a miraculous healing, it seems usually to be when it will build faith in Jesus. In other words, it’s a sign like the healings carried out by Jesus. If we are to understand when God heals physically and when he doesn’t, we need to understand his will better, and listen to how he wants us to pray for individuals.
Perhaps that’s a message we could take from the last verse of today’s study.
“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”
Even Jesus, whose ability to hear the Father’s voice was unrivalled, finds that he can only pray properly by withdrawing to solitude. He needs to avoid the crowds. What do we need to avoid? Do we need to go to a lonely place, or just a quiet place? I don’t think it matters very much provided we make the opportunity to listen.
And, if we listen carefully to God, perhaps we will be better able to know how to pray effectively.
Please help my heart to be still and silent when I pray so that I can hear your voice.
In Jesus’ name, Amen