"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Matthew 8 -- Touching An 'Untouchable'

1When he came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. 2A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean."

3Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" Immediately he was cured of his leprosy. 4Then Jesus said to him, "See that you don't tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them."



I was talking to a friend earlier today about how human touch is so important. I've heard of babies in intensive care getting better quicker when caressed by the loving hands of their parents or kindhearted caregivers.

Can you imagine being one of these people with oozing skin diseases or blemishes? The Law of Moses pronounced them unclean and they had to live apart from the rest of society. (See Leviticus 13:44-46) When someone happened to wander near them, the lepers were obligated to cry "Unclean! Unclean!" as a warning. They truly were "the untouchables" for if you touched them, you would be ceremonially unclean. And having to live apart from your family must have been such a sad existence!

Picture this man coming to Jesus and demonstrating such remarkable faith proclaiming that Jesus was capable of cleansing him. Jesus could heal this man and, in so doing, fully restore this person to his family, community and place of worship.

I love that Jesus said he indeed was willing, touched the man and ordered him clean. With a word from Jesus, a person's health and relationships were restored!

My Quest Study Bible notes this:

Though he upheld the spirit of the law, Jesus could be accused by his critics of breaking the letter of the Old Testament law about lepers: to touch anything ceremonially unclean was forbidden (Lev. 5:2). Since lepers were unclean, they were banished from the community and dressed as mourners grieving their own death (Lev. 13:45-46). By touching an "untouchable," Jesus demonstrated his authority over the law. He cared more about people's needs than about religious ritual.


This reminds me of the post I wrote where Jesus told the Pharisees to go and learn what "I desire mercy, not sacrifice" means. I believe people matter to Jesus more than religious traditions. If your rituals are getting in the way of your treating people with kindness, rethink things.


For a more thorough study on this passage, please visit The Gift of a Leper.

13 comments:

Amber said...

Susanne,

We're social creatures. The lack of touch, especially in infants, is harmful to our development. There were experiments done in...the 60s? I think, on infant monkeys that showed when they were removed from natural rearing and left isolated they developed severe psychological problems.

Even as adults, we need touch. We need to be a part of the group. Yes, there are some who isolate by choice, but they're the exception, not the rule. That's why exile and shunning are such old school and effective punishments. The group means safety and warmth and love and home - outside the group means 'death'.

I understand, from a health point of view, the necessity of removing lepers from the general population, but the psychological toll it must have taken on them, plus, at that point, they didn't understand that it was a disease, and would also be looked at as spiritually diseased as well, as though the leprosy was caused by a sin that they had committed.

It's a deeply touching story, if you understand the background to it.

Wafa' said...

We are not Jesus. But imagine how our tenderness and caring and love can affect people. i have been affected by so much love and touch and help and nice words from others. As Amber said we are social creatures and we can not JUST live along each other , we need the touch of our loved ones.
sometimes a touch can do more than what a million word my do.
My mother touches makes wonder to me :)

Suroor said...

Beautiful post! Brought tears in my eyes out of love for Jesus. I love him so much!

"If your rituals are getting in the way of your treating people with kindness, rethink things."

So true! Reminds me of my recent post on polygamy :)

Carmen said...

"I believe people matter to Jesus more than religious traditions. If your rituals are getting in the way of your treating people with kindness, rethink things."


Yes. Yes. Yes!

"Picture this man coming to Jesus and demonstrating such remarkable faith proclaiming that Jesus was capable of cleansing him. Jesus could heal this man and, in so doing, fully restore this person to his family, community and place of worship."

I think you would have enjoyed James' sermon about the woman healed in the temple while Jesus was preaching. It was full of cultural background and wonderful challenges to be Christ to others instead of being legalistic and hands off.

Beautiful picture and example our Savior has given us!

Usman said...

What is the fate of the people who don't believe in Jesus?

Susanne said...

Amber, thank you for sharing what you did! Your comment added "richness" to the post. I loved all that you shared - great stuff!

Wafa', yes, I totally agree. Great comment! I'm glad you find such joy in your mother's touch!

Susanne said...

Suroor, yes, I was reading in Matthew 8 and started thinking about this passage and what it would mean to touch a leper -- someone ordinary Jews avoided and it was striking. I wanted to "showcase" these verses in a post so that's what I tried to do. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Ahhhh, your post on polygyny...yes, I read it. I can see why you wanted to blog about it. Such an interesting topic. And, yes, why not favor people above what you are "allowed" to do? Oh, that's right...are women people worthy of respect? Or is only through their relationship with men that they gain any form of value?

Your blogs are great. I love the topics and discussions that stem from them!

Susanne said...

Carmen, glad you could relate to some things from this post. I agree Jesus gave the perfect example. This is one reason why I love him! He didn't just say "here are your rules" and then declare separate rules or exceptions for himself. He lead by example! A good leader always does!

Contrast this to Muhammad who gave supposed rules by Allah to the group - for instance, men you are limited to 4 wives at one time. HOWEVER, "Allah" has allowed me to marry more than 4 because I am special. (I added some commentary to that, but you get the idea.)

Forgive me if I am not impressed by people who have one set of rules for the commoners and one set of rules for the elitists.

James' sermon sounds great! I love the kind that explore the culture surrounding the biblical passages. I think it's important for gaining a truer picture of things.

Thanks for your comment!

Susanne said...

Usman, it depends on your point of view, but I follow him as "the Way, the Truth and the Life." The Way to the Father.

sanil said...

One thought on the letter of the Law point...touching something unclean is not sin. It just makes you dirty, so you have to do the ritual purification thing. Just like it's not what goes into your mouth that defiles you, yet you wouldn't take that and let your kid eat poison. It would have completely impossible for a Jew, especially a Jewish woman, to never be made unclean through touch. Every month, a woman is made unclean. That's why they have purification rituals. Jesus broke no Law in touching the lepers, provided he did the purification ritual afterward. I'm pretty sure we're not told if he did, but I have a hard time believing an observant Jew would just ignore it and be in complete rebellion to the Laws of God.

The distinction is important to me because it means that it's not that Jesus had the authority to break the Law God gave, but that the correct response was always to do what we could to heal those people. Granted, Jesus had the advantage of knowing he could heal them instead of being infected himself, but I'm sure the people could have found ways of providing comfort to lepers without endangering themselves. It was important to have those purity Laws so that the whole community wasn't infected and the most people possible could be kept safe, but we have to also remember that if our dedication to God/cleanliness/righteousness becomes a means of oppressing others, we're doing it wrong.

Susanne said...

Sanil, thank you for that wonderful comment. Yes, I should have made it clearer that it wasn't a SIN. I did say it made people ceremonially unclean, but so did being near a corpse if I remember correctly. So anyone who had a family member die could have been "unclean" at one time or another and, yes, as you pointed out that whole thing about women. :) That's a great point so thank you for bringing it up here!

I really liked this:

"It was important to have those purity Laws so that the whole community wasn't infected and the most people possible could be kept safe, but we have to also remember that if our dedication to God/cleanliness/righteousness becomes a means of oppressing others, we're doing it wrong."

What I think it great about this story is that Jesus touched the leper. True as you said it wasn't "sinful," but still I would imagine it being a bit shocking to the audience for a rabbi to purposefully touch a leprous man. But maybe I'm wrong. I just can't see pious Jews purposefully making themselves ceremonially unclean as standard practice. Then again, maybe it wasn't a big deal.

So glad you added what you did. Thanks much! Great to see you again! :)

sanil said...

"What I think it great about this story is that Jesus touched the leper. True as you said it wasn't "sinful," but still I would imagine it being a bit shocking to the audience for a rabbi to purposefully touch a leprous man. But maybe I'm wrong. I just can't see pious Jews purposefully making themselves ceremonially unclean as standard practice. Then again, maybe it wasn't a big deal."

I think you're probably right. It was mostly a knee-jerk reaction left over from when I was Messianic and was regularly reading alternate explanations to things that I'd always heard proved Jesus broke and advocated others break the Torah, which I get now isn't really where you were going with that, so it wasn't really relevant. Glad it was helpful, though. :)

And thanks, It feels sooo good to be back again, I have missed blogs.

Susanne said...

Sanil, no problem at all! I am so glad you shared what you did. Please do so any time!