By G.K. Johnson
Unclean. The opposite of being clean. In our current times, people are doing everything they can to avoid this descriptor. We wash our hands. When we leave our homes, we wear gloves and masks and try to keep at least six feet between ourselves and others.
There are those for whom the word is an unavoidable description of their current condition. They are sequestered in their homes or other isolated places to wait out the virus, their bodies fighting their invisible attackers as best they can. The sickness has spread through their body, out of their control…they are unclean.
Mankind is no stranger to disease and sickness.
Thousands of years ago those with life-altering illnesses and disease had even less hope for healing. Medical knowledge was extremely limited in comparison to what it is now. Those who found themselves with incurable diseases were often sequestered in isolated places with others suffering the same fate. One of these terrible diseases was leprosy. Not only were there terrible physical ramifications from the disease, but it was also believed that those infected with leprosy earned the condition through their sin.
Imagine the heaviness of this diagnosis: the shame, fear, and loneliness that the inflicted person would feel.
“Don’t infect us, scum!”
Shim’on pushed into the crowd trying to see the subject of the disruption.
People backed up and parted to reveal a man swathed head to toe in dirty white linens. The only uncovered parts of his body were his fingertips and a gap in the head covering where his eyes peered out.
Looking at his hands, Shim’on flinched. Instead of healthy pink skin, he saw white deformed stubs. The man had leprosy. Instinctively, Shim’on, Andreas, and the other two disciples stepped back.
Instead of moving away from the leper, however, Shim’on watched the rabbi walk toward him! What was the man doing? Leprosy was extremely contagious. Lepers were not permitted in populated towns; but only in leper colonies outside the village.
The disease attacked the nerve functioning of those it infected and caused sores to develop all over the body. If ever a leper were to come in proximity to a ‘clean’ person, one not tainted by the disease, he was required to shout “unclean!” to warn others of his condition. The life of a leper was lonely and filled with shame.
This rabbi was taking a gamble by approaching the leper, and Shim’on couldn’t decide if he were completely crazy or extremely brave.
Jesus continued walking toward the man until he stood directly in front of him, only a foot or so away. The crowd, which had grown increasingly large, quieted, holding their breath to see what the rabbi was going to do.
Suddenly Jesus reached out his hand and set it on the man’s shoulder. Gasps and whispers crossed over the crowd.
“Be healed,” Jesus spoke quietly, looking into the man’s eyes.
The man began to cry, tears wetting the dirty cloths wrapped around his face. He reached up a hand, and it was then that Shim’on saw that what had been decaying tissue was now healthy skin. The man continued staring at his fingers and then began unwrapping the cloth, revealing a hand, then an arm. The flesh was perfectly healthy; the leprosy completely gone!
Murmurs spread, growing in volume, through the crowd. Everyone was amazed.
“Who is this man?”
“He healed the leper with a word!”
Jesus spoke to the man quietly.
Tears poured down the man’s face and he knelt before Jesus. “Thank you, Rabbi!”
He stood in amazement and Jesus clapped him on the shoulder, grinning. The man laughed in gulps of wonder and then, he departed.*The Zealots, author G.K. Johnson. publishing September 2020, by Capture Books.
Our Lord touches even those whom the authorities in this world say are untouchable, unclean.
Our God enters into the dirtiest, most shame-filled places of our lives and speaks life!
And it brings Him joy to do it.
The book of Mark, chapter 2, records a dinner where Jesus attends to a tax collector’s needs at the tax collector’s home. The Hebrews despised tax collectors.
These tax collectors were Hebrews who had turned on their people and accepted Roman jobs because of the financial benefits. They extorted their own people and helped to support the Roman occupation at the same time. So when Jesus invites a tax collector to follow him, imagine the outrage many of the Hebrews would feel. Can’t Jesus identify the scum in our community? Is Jesus intentionally circumventing our social bias and the rules we use to keep this kind of traitor down? The disciple, Mark, reflects that some religious Pharisees grumbled to the disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?”
Jesus replies, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”
Isn’t this beautiful? It’s the very core of the gospel. I am unclean. You are unclean. We are all physically, socially, and spiritually sick with sin. And it’s only when we can acknowledge that truth to Jesus, the Great Physician, in a seed of faith for His help, that He can administer His miracles of life and spiritual birth. Sometimes it’s physical. Other times it’s a healing of our hearts.
Let’s be careful and wash our hands and follow other medical wisdom to not spread sickness. Yes, let’s also be mindful of the unclean around us…the obviously sick and those who may not show physical symptoms.
But, let’s also ask, How can we be the hands and feet of Jesus? Perhaps it’s letting His word soak into our own hearts while resting so that we have some good news to spread in a fresh way. Perhaps, it is sending a card or letter, singing hope to our neighbors from our backyard, offering to help with shopping or giving out medical gloves for commercial transactions, or maybe simply making a phone call.
Most of all, remember, dear unclean one…Jesus came to help you.
References: Matthew 8 (New Living Translation of the Bible)
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