Matthew 8: “He Touched Me”

Portions of today’s reading is from “Healing of the Leper” by Pastor Alan Smith

Our reading for today takes us through Matthew 8. The beginning of Matthew 8 starts with a most peculiar interaction between a dignified Rabbi and an Unclean Leper.

Matthew 8:1-2 (NLT) Large crowds followed Jesus as he came down the mountainside. Suddenly, a man with leprosy approached him and knelt before him. “Lord,” the man said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”

Here was a man who had leprosy. Now in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, the word “leprosy” is a broad term which includes a wide range of skin diseases. The very worst of those diseases was what we know as leprosy today, a condition which is also called “Hanson’s Disease”. We don’t know how severe the problem of this particular leper was, but let’s assume he had modern leprosy.

Understanding Leprosy

It’s a horrible disease. It begins with little specks on the eyelids and on the palms of the hands. Then it spreads over the body. It bleaches the hair white. It covers the skin with scales and oozing sores.

But that’s just what happens on the surface. Down under the skin, leprosy eats its way through the nerves. And soon the victim loses all sense of touch and pain, initially in the fingers and toes, then spreading up the arms and legs. So, a leper can’t feel anything. That may not sound so bad. The last time you stubbed your toe when you trip over a chair on your way back to bed, you probably wished that you didn’t feel anything. Or the last time you hit your thumb with a hammer or burned yourself on a hot pot. But what sounds like it might be nice is absolutely horrible. Because without the sense of touch, a person with leprosy eventually damages his toes, fingers, and feet. He will bump into objects, cut himself, get infections — and not even notice.

It might surprise you to know that leprosy is not regarded as highly contagious disease. And today, leprosy can be treated with drugs, and it can be cured.

But there was no cure in Bible days. And so the Old Testament sets forth some very strict instructions regarding those who had the disease because there was no other way to slow the spread of a disease that led to such a horrible result.

The society in which Jesus lived went to great lengths to separate the clean from the unclean. There were clear-cut boundaries between the two.

Leviticus 13:45-46 (NLT) 45 “Those who suffer from a serious skin disease must tear their clothing and leave their hair uncombed. They must cover their mouth and call out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ 46 As long as the serious disease lasts, they will be ceremonially unclean. They must live in isolation in their place outside the camp.

Jesus and the Leper Respond to One Another

Knowing what we know about leprosy, and knowing the “law” about leprosy, it’s interesting to see how both the leper and Jesus respond to each other. The response of the leper was to break all the rules. The fact that story tells us that the leper “approached Jesus and knelt before him” is unthinkable!

I can only imagine this man who was sick and tired of being sick and tired seeing Jesus crossing the street with a sense of determination and collapsing at his feet holding onto his garment just pleading, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.” But now we must look at the response of Jesus.

Spoiler Alert: The result of the story is that the man with leprosy is healed; but that’s not the most important part of the story. In fact, the most important part of the story is found in (verse 3) “Jesus reached out and touched him.” Mark’s account tells us that Jesus was filled with compassion. Either way, Jesus’ response was to touch the untouchable, heal the unhealable, and ultimately love the unloveable. Let these words remind you today that Jesus doesn’t wait for you to be clean to touch you. As Mark indicated, Jesus is filled with compassion and is willing to not only heal you, but draw close and touch you today.

He Touched Me

He touched me, Oh He touched me,
And oh the joy that floods my soul!
Something happened and now I know,
He touched me and made me whole.