Church of Christ
at
Locks Cross Roads
1) Matthew 8 - Jesus heals a leper
JESUS HEALS A LEPER - Matthew 8:2-4 (Parallels: Mark 1:40-45, Luke 5:12-16)

To be able fully to appreciate Matthew's inclusion of precisely this illustration of Jesus' unfailing compassionate love
for outcasts, we must grasp the whole Jewish viewpoint regarding lepers and leprosy.  Otherwise, we may fail to see
why this sentence is such a surprise.  For help in grasping the Jewish concept of ceremonial and spiritual defilement
see Leviticus 13, Leviticus 15:31.
Leprosy is an infectious condition produced by microbes discovered and described by A. G. Hansen in 1874.  
Hansen's disease is contagious, its infection being thought to arise from direct contact with infected skin and
mucous membranes, although not very readily communicated by casual contact.

Although certain biblical cases of leprosy were clearly visitations of the wrath of God (Numbers 12:9-15, 2nd Kings
5:25-27, 2nd Chronicles 26:16-21), this by no means proves that all cases were that.  This view of leprosy as a
"stroke of God" may explain the usual attitude with which some rabbis kept lepers at a distance.  The defilement that
a leper brings to others by contact with them may also explain this.

In order to preserve their self-righteous personal ceremonial purity, some rabbis went so far as to declare a
distance no less than six feet as sufficient to keep from a leper, but if the wind blew from the direction of the leper,
scarcely 100 were sufficient.
"and worshipped him" - Mark and Luke strengthen this expression by noting that the leper kneeled in front of Jesus
bowing his head to the ground.  From this unashamed expression of deep reverence for Jesus, how can we deduce
of this man's understanding of Jesus' true identity?

If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.  Nowhere has there ever appeared a better statement of the right basic
attitude of prayer, which so trustingly lays our otherwise hopeless case upon God's power to help.

Leprosy's attack upon this man brought into the picture all of the heartless application of Moses' Law.  The Law was
the same for all, and he, a leper, had been forced by that Law to leave his family, his associations, his life.  That
same Law required all to clear a circle around him everywhere, none could share with him the warming embraces of
love.  The Law had perhaps made him even forget how the touch of another's hand felt, for he was now, for the
duration of his hopeless case, a fellow-sufferer with others of the living dead.  Yet, Jesus, "moved with compassion"
(Mark 1:41), swiftly, spontaneously moved to the leper's side, and touched him.

But how could Jesus touch the leper without incurring at least one day's defilement?
He was God and could act without any reference to Old Testament Law if He so choose.
  A)  Jesus showed divine authority by taking charge of the Temple, when he cleansed it (John 2:14-22).
  B)  There is no evidence that Jesus ever offered sacrifices for sin or even attended all the feasts required of all
       Jews (Deuteronomy 16:15).  Rather there is evidence to the contrary which would explain why Jesus would
       not have offered sin offerings (see John 8:46, Hebrews 4:15).
  C)  Jesus forgave sins directly, without reference to the Mosaic system (Matthew 9:1-8, Luke 7:48-50).
  D)  He deliberately announced the change of the central place of worship, a cardinal doctrine of the Mosaic
        system (John 4:20-24 contrasted with Deuteronomy 12:1-14, Joshua 22, 2nd Kings 18:22, 2nd Chronicles
        32:12, Isaiah 36:7).
  E)  Jesus set aside the distinction between clean and unclean foods (Matthew 15:11, Mark 7:19).
  F)  For all practical purposes, Jesus drastically altered Mosaic legislation regarding divorce (Matthew 19:1-9).
  G)  Jesus was baptized by God's inspired prophet, not for forgiveness of sins, as John had commanded others,
        but "to fulfill all righteousness"  (see Matthew 3:15).
  H)  He also claimed to be "greater than the Temple" (Matthew 12:6), "Lord of the Sabbath" (Matthew 12:8), and
       declared that there are cases when human needs supersede the strict observance of the Law (Matthew
       12:1-14).  His enemies thus understood His claims to superiority to the Law and its institutions and attacked
       Him at His trials on this basis, ignoring His disregard for their traditions (Matthew 26:61, Mark 14:58).
  I)   The KEY INCIDENT which explains Jesus' unique position as Son of God and, at the same time, Son of Man,
       is the temple-tax incident (Matthew 17:24-27).  God's Son is not bound to pay the temple tax even though
       Moses commanded it (Exodus 30:13, Exodus 38:26).

Thus, here Matthew records an act of Jesus that was every bit as marvelous as the cleansing itself.  But to Jesus,
the Son of God in human flesh, this act was no different than what He had been doing since His incarnation, for His
incarnation had already brought Him into contact with mortal flesh.  Some have observed that when Jesus touched
and healed and cleansed the leper, that Jesus' purifying touch overweighed the contaminating influence of the
leper's uncleanness.  Jesus was not defiled, but the leper was cleansed; the two were not left in the leper's former
condition-defiled (the situation covered by the Law).  Jesus made the leper like Himself - pure, (a situation
unimagined by any but God!)  How like Jesus to touch this leper!  Here is a revelation of His quickness to perceive
another's feeling because He loved him.  In short, here is the untouchable wrapped around with the love and mercy
of God in Jesus of Nazareth.
Back to Matthew 8 Study Index Page