In Jesus’ day, people often were afraid to be close to a person with a disability or a disease. This was especially true in the case of leprosy – it was contagious, and people with the disease were considered unclean. Healthy people kept their distance, physically and emotionally. Lepers experienced deep loneliness and isolation, sometimes living in a community with one another but excluded by the nearby cities and towns.
People didn’t find ways to connect with lepers in ways that minimized risks. Instead, lepers were simply shunned. Jesus didn’t shun the lepers, however. He pressed into their community and allowed them to get close to Him. He didn’t shudder at their touch. He didn’t back away in fear. He approached them and entered their space, something everybody else was afraid to do.
We see an example of this in Mark 1:40-45. “And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, ‘If you will, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean.’And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.’ But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.”
I love that the leper seeks Jesus out, coming to Him and asking for healing. He takes the risk of rejection, of the horrified looks of the people around him, but Jesus responds favorably. Jesus makes the first contact – He touches this man with no hesitation or disgust. He gives this man the physical contact he has been starved of for so long, just a comforting touch, a sign of companionship and friendship. This passage makes it clear that Jesus is not afraid of or disgusted by our brokenness. He treats us as friends, making the first contact. He seeks us out in the crowd, gently touching our shoulders and reassuring us that we are loved and valuable. When we could not make the first approach, since we were dead in sin, Jesus came to us and embraced us, despite our sin.
Praise the Lord that Jesus is not afraid to get His hands dirty! And we can learn from His example. Physical health is, of course, important, but we can connect to people emotionally by listening to their stories and their struggles. Giving someone a listening ear can be life-changing. So let’s make it our goal to engage with someone who the world rejects.