While He was in one of the cities, behold, there was a man covered with leprosy; and when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” And He stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately the leprosy left him. (Luke 5:12,13 NASB)
This is one of my favorite accounts of Jesus healing. There are simply very small details just in these two verses that shout out Jesus’ love for people. We read about His love in John 3:16, where God loves the whole world. We know at some level that this includes us as individuals, but even so, this love had to do with Jesus dying and rising for the whole world. We suspect that to wonder or want the individual assurance or attention is selfish, but we simply cannot face our loneliness without it. We wonder, and hope, and consider what it would be like; but we stop there, shrinking back from the appearance of self-centered living.
Then we run into accounts like this one, where the desire of Jesus for this discarded human is not declared in word, but in glorious deed. For here is one for whom “Unclean!” is constantly on his lips as he is around his neighbors and family. This man cannot be touched, does not want to be seen in this condition, and for whom loneliness is a lifestyle. He knows from what he has heard that Jesus can heal, but he also knows that he is ‘unclean’. So the question he asks within the statement he makes is, “Do you want to heal the unclean lonely outcast?”
THE SOCIAL SETTING AND PROBLEM
The crowd is repulsed by the man who’s skin condition is contagious, who is thought by all to have been punished by God for sins, who is clearly not under the favor of the God of Israel. We don’t run into leprosy often enough to understand the stigma. We are too far removed from the cultural religion of the day to feel the crowds sense of condemnation for this man. Yet we have the ‘social lepers’ in our day; the social outcasts, the pariah’s, those considered ‘unclean’ by some social standard of our culture. They may not have skin conditions, but they have something. They may have a disability, they may have acne, they could have autism, or some other problem that makes their acceptance by the crowd impossible. And chances are very good you know someone in this category.
But the detail which for me shouts the love of Jesus so loudly is in the action Jesus takes first. Jesus touches the man. He stretches out His hand and gives the gift that that has been withheld from the man for as long as he has had the leprosy. This is before Jesus says He wants to heal. This simple act demonstrates what His words say. Jesus wants to heal the man. It’s His desire, His intent, His purpose, but also His heart. He touches the man, declares His desire to heal, and then commands the man to be healed. Wait, Jesus did what?
THE COMMAND TO BE HEALED
Jesus gives the gift the man hasn’t had and desired through the touch. He then tells the man what he so longs to hear, that someone cares enough about him in his social outcast status to want to help him. But then Jesus commands the man to be healed. It’s a passive imperative. When I tell my daughter to pick up her shoes, it’s an imperative command, where my daughter is the subject, and her shoes are the object, the thing acted upon. But if I tell her to be quiet, now I’ve switched the subject-object relationship, and she is now both. This is a passive imperative. It’s like Jesus told the man to be quiet, only instead He tells him to be healed. How exactly can the man actually obey such a command? If he could do that, wouldn’t he already have done it?
Well, I have a theory, I wish it were a postulated fact, but it’s a theory. I believe that what is implied in the passive command the reception of healing from Jesus. The context of the command is the question and answer around Jesus’ desire to heal the man. So I believe it’s reasonable to also believe that the reception of healing from Jesus is what is in view. And this does soften the command somewhat, but still leaves the effectiveness of the healing on the man. It still is a passive command. There is still the requirement on the leper to cooperate. There is the gift of healing, but there also has to be the reception of the gift. Jesus can but offer, He will not force the receiving.
WILL WE OBEY THE COMMAND TO BE HEALED?
The leper does receive, and the man is healed immediately. The question at this point becomes “will we receive”? The truth about Jesus here is profound, He cares about us, even as individuals, even at our worst, even when “unclean”. He cares about us enough to act to meet a deep personal, interior need. He cares enough about us to offer the gift of healing without demanding we take it. He is comfortable with us as we are, weaknesses and all. But He also works, acts, and speaks to offer the change we need. Do we desire the change we need? “If He is willing…” Jesus can heal, but “If we are willing…” we will receive it.
The question, “If You are willing,” is followed by touch, and then by the question, “will you receive healing?” Jesus turns the question around on the man, and I believe He does the same with us. In the Twelve-Step program, steps 6 and 7 are rarely popular. Participants rush through admitting they need help, they quickly make a list of what they’ve done, confess it to some other person, and then are often left with this list they don’t know what to do with. Step 6 says, “We became ready to have God remove these defects of character.” This requires a few things, like belief in God. Step 7 says, “We humbly asked God to remove these defects of character.” This requires humility, along with that belief in God, it requires the relinquishment of having to ‘heal ourselves’. It’s not accidental that these steps are the center of the Twelve. In Hebrew literary structures that would make them the most important. In the practice of the Twelve Steps, it makes them pivotal between the steps to sobriety and the steps to maintain sobriety.
PERMITTING JESUS TO HEAL US
I believe that we, as followers of Jesus, need to be asking for Jesus’ willingness to be involved in our personal lives. We need to be touched by Him in the midst of our condition, emotional, social, racial, economic, and psychological. And then, after the touch, we need to hear Jesus speak to us of His desire for our healing. This means He has to have our attention beyond the touch. And then we need to obey His command to receive His healing. Which means we also have to relinquish the ability to heal ourselves. We have to, must, it is necessary for us to “humbly ask Him to remove our defect of character”. It’s not an “ought”, it is a fundamental underlying requirement before we can experience healing. We ought to be healed, but we can’t heal ourselves. So we have to let Jesus heal us instead.
We can stop at our question about His desire, and never listen to hear the answer. We can turn away at the touch, as if that’s enough. We can hear His declaration of His desire, but then disobey the command to receive it. We can do all of these things. We can. And at some point along this spectrum we often do. I have sabotaged my own healing at various points along the way because sometimes I don’t want to be healed. But for the healing to happen, I have to relent. I have to permit my Master to heal me. I have to permit Him to remove that defect of character. I have to. It’s not an optional element to my healing. Which is why it’s a command of Jesus.
That’s my view through the knothole. What’s yours?