12 Once, when he was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy.* When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, ‘Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.’ 13Then Jesus* stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, ‘I do choose. Be made clean.’ Immediately the leprosy* left him. 14And he ordered him to tell no one. ‘Go’, he said, ‘and show yourself to the priest, and, as Moses commanded, make an offering for your cleansing, for a testimony to them.’ 15But now more than ever the word about Jesus* spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. 16But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.
Luke tells of another event – it is another “once”, set in the midst of Jesus’ wandering ministry, although not in a specific place, just “one of the cities”. Jesus is approached by a man with leprosy, which in biblical days meant any sort of skin disease – people with leprosy were shunned, considered unclean; the law said they must shout “unclean! unclean!” if they came near people. If someone touched them they became unclean. This man, instead of shouting, “Unclean! stay away!” came to Jesus and fell on his face at his feet. What he said seems strange, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” Not, please heal me, or please make me clean, but if you choose, you can – this man knew that Jesus had the power to heal his sickness; he had come to Jesus because he believed that. This is faith. But his faith did not quite extend to trusting that Jesus would be different from everyone else he had asked for help – he had watched from afar as Jesus healed people; he did not do this from a distance, it was an up-close, personal encounter. Perhaps Jesus would be repulsed by his ugliness, his woundedness; perhaps Jesus would shout “unclean” and turn away, like others did. For the man, coming to Jesus was a risk.
But Jesus, unlike others the man had met, said, “I do choose. Be made clean.” And he said this, even while reaching out his hand to touch the man. This man needed to be touched, longed to be touched; he had been rejected, had felt people’s repulsion, even their judgment. How could this condition be his fault? Still that was what he had felt, from good, law-abiding people. But Jesus was not like that; Jesus did not reject the one the law rejected; Jesus did not turn away; Jesus was not repulsed by his condition; Jesus did not judge or accuse. Jesus reached out and touched him – and he was healed. If we are to be like Jesus, we cannot reject people because of who they are; we cannot judge people, or find people repulsive. Jesus reached out – do we?
Strangely, Jesus ordered him to tell no one, but to go to the priest and make the offerings required for cleansing, for returning to his community. But one who has been healed cannot help telling others, and there were witnesses to the event, and they told others, and the word of this teacher from Galilee spread all the more. The crowds gathered wherever he went.
But Jesus always managed to withdraw to a quiet place to pray. We need to do that – withdraw to a quiet place to pray, especially in this busy season of Advent.