“When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; and there was a leper who came to him and knelt down before him, saying, ‘Lord, if you choose you can make me clean.’ Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately his leprosy was cleansed.” – Matt 8:1-3
The moment Jesus comes down from the mountain he is accosted by a desperate leper. And being a leper in Jesus’ day was about as bad as it gets. Lepers were unclean. And if you touched a leper, you too became unclean. And uncleanness wasn’t something to take lightly. As a result, lepers were forced live outside God’s camp in the wilderness (Num 5:2). But it got worst. Lepers had to humiliate themselves to be faithful to the Torah. “The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and … shall cover his upper lip and cry out, Unclean, Unclean!” (Lev 13:45) Now think about this for a moment. This is like forcing someone with AIDS or herpes to run around in a hospital gown and perpetually scream “Stay away! I have AIDS! I have herpes!” anytime they’re in public. Like I said, being a leper in Jesus’ day was about as bad as it gets.
In other words, this particular leper was desperate. He runs to Jesus and kneels before Jesus – a desperate, unclean, outcast. And if Jesus followed the letter of the Mosaic Law, there’s no way he would have touched this leper. The Law commanded Israel to exhibit “holy carefulness” – to “guard against an outbreak of a leprous skin disease by being very careful” (Deut 24:7). But Jesus, the new Moses, who forms a new family, came to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matt 3:15). And in order to do so, Jesus shows his disciples what holy carelessness is all about. Jesus touches the desperate outcast and then declares him to be clean.
Now, we can’t miss what the leper – what the desperate outcast – teaches us. The leper kneels before Jesus and acknowledges his utter inability to make himself clean. Only Jesus can choose to make him clean. In other words, it is God’s sovereign choice to heal us. All we bring to the table is our disease. All we contribute to our salvation is our sin. Jesus alone can choose to heal us. And the good news of the Christian Gospel is summed up in Jesus’ response to this leper: “I do choose.”
We all need to take our place in this biblical story. More specifically, I see us in two different roles. First, we’re the leper. Apart from God’s grace, we’re all desperate outcasts – the very ones condemned to live outside God’s camp. We’re the ones who must kneel before Jesus and stake our lives on this one man. We’re the ones who must cry out from our knees, and from our hearts, Lord if you choose!” And of course, we’re the ones privileged to hear Jesus’ words – I do choose! You’re clean!
But, we’re also Jesus’ disciples. We are already cleansed by the word Jesus has spoken to us (Jn 15:3). We’ve followed him down the mountain and we’ve asked him to teach us his new law – what life in God’s kingdom is all about. And now Jesus begins to model the kingdom-life of holy carelessness. He touches the leper. He embraces the outcast, the unclean, and the desperate of our world. This is a large part of what Jesus’ kingdom-life is all about. For now, the disciples can only watch and relearn. After all, touching lepers is part of the new Moses’ new law. A shift has taken place – from holy carefulness to holy carelessness.
UNTIL WEDNESDAY: We are privileged to be careless because the kingdom-life is all about the Father’s care, presence, and provision. In other words, we’re free to do what Jesus does. We don’t have to live guarded lives. Like Jesus says, the Father has every single one of our hairs numbered (Lk 12:7). And because of that, we can live lives of holy carelessness as we learn from Jesus what the kingdom-life is all about. For today and tomorrow, take your place in this story. First, know yourself as the one touched by Jesus. Know and feel what it means for God – who is holy and clean and pure – to stretch out his hand and touch you. Second, practice the holy carelessness of Jesus’ kingdom. “Go and do likewise” (Lk 10:37).