Word for the Week
Short reflections on Bible passages, with a frontline focus...
While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’ Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ And immediately the leprosy left him. Then Jesus ordered him, ‘Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.’
In 1987 Princess Diana made headlines as she opened the UK’s first HIV/AIDS unit at London Middlesex Hospital. A photograph of the Royal shaking a patient’s hand captures the moment when ill-informed attitudes towards the sickness were confronted. In not wearing any gloves, Diana overtly challenged the false notion that AIDS could be passed on by touch. With a simple gesture of kindness, she sought to change the culture around her by offering an example of grace and love.
When Jesus reached out to touch the leper, shockwaves must have been felt by everyone in the town. Although ‘leprosy’ could refer to several types of skin disease, extreme cases were greatly feared for their harm and ability to be spread through physical contact. Those suffering had to remain isolated and shout ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ in public to avoid contact with others.
It must have required great courage to approach Jesus. Like the woman suffering a loss of blood (Luke 8:40–48), this man could have been punished for boldly entering a populated area. By falling with his face to the ground (a gesture fit for a royal or divine figure), he demonstrates great confidence in Jesus as the one whose presence is good news for the afflicted (Isaiah 61:1–2).
Though Jesus commands the man not to tell anyone, he answers the leper’s faith-filled plea – ‘if you are willing’ – with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power. Jesus affirms that, whether or not people hear about it, this is the purpose for which he came (Luke 4:18–19).
Whilst Jesus’ healing addresses the man’s external affliction, it also has the capacity to confront internal attitudes that may have been held towards the leper. Jesus sees no reason to be repulsed by the man’s illness but leans in to offer healing, both physically and socially.
Whether scattered or gathered, the church is the body of the same Messiah whose mission is to be good news to those suffering and lost in our world today. With simple gestures of kindness, we too can overtly challenge a culture of ‘othering’ based on ill-informed preconceptions. With the Spirit’s help, these acts can create order where there’s chaos.
In ministering grace and love today, how might your simple acts of kindness be good news to those on your frontline?
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