A COLONY HEALED
When Jesus walked on this earth there was no disease worse than leprosy. It was a filthy, deadly skin condition from which few people recovered. It was also highly contagious. In Jesus’ time, no one knew exactly how it spread, only that it spread very easily. When leprosy showed up, a beloved family member would instantly become someone you were now afraid of. You would no longer want to touch them, breathe the same air, or even be in the same room.
The moment someone became leprous, they became an outcast; isolated, rejected, and even despised for what they could potentially do to other people. Lepers would be arrested and perhaps even worse if they didn’t voluntarily leave their homes and towns. Some would make their way to leper colonies where they could at least spend their remaining days in the same general area with strangers. Many, however, in pain and waiting to die, ended up spending the remainder of their days alone and with no hope.
Leprosy was not just a medical condition either, it also reflected spiritual realities. Leprosy made a person biblically unclean, creating a picture of the devastating consequences of sin. Because leprosy was such a serious disease that required quarantine, it made a person unfit to be a part of the community. This created a living picture of how sin breaks relationships. The Bible never says that leprosy is caused by a particular sin or behavior, only that it demonstrates how horrible sin is, how easily it spreads, how it must be contained, and how a healthy community must be protected from it. This is why whole chapters of the Old Testament Law, such as Leviticus 13–14, are devoted to how to contain leprosy and treat lepers. However, praise God in his grace, they also contain instructions on how to restore those who have been healed.
It’s hard for us to imagine today the reality of how awful a disease like this was. One day you are a beloved mother, father, grandparent, child, or spouse, enjoying the respect, recognition, kisses, hugs, value, and love of others. The next day, your skin starts turning white, and you are abandoned, never touching another nor having a meaningful conversation with someone ever again.
And then God sends his son Jesus Christ to live on this earth. During his ministry, a man “full of leprosy,” as the Bible puts it, walks up to him, in broad daylight (and Jesus wasn’t visiting a leper colony). This man, at great risk to himself and to others, goes right up to Jesus, falls on his face, and begs, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean” (Luke 5:12). We must see what Jesus does in response to this man with this terrible disease. He doesn’t reject him, he doesn’t call the police, he doesn’t grimace in disgust; he touches him. Luke 5:13 says, “And He stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, ‘I am willing; be cleansed.’ And immediately the leprosy left him.”
Jesus’ touch changes everything, for that man and for us. Jesus’ touch is healing, grace, salvation, and reconciliation. This man most likely hadn’t been touched in years, but now God said, “you are right with me, and now you can once again be right with others.” Jesus, the one who is untouched by sin, touches a person who physically represents the horror and isolation of sin, and he overcomes it.
Sin isolates. Sin divides. Sin separates us from God, and then it separates us from each other. This is not the way things are supposed to be. The leper’s plight might not be ours physically, but all too often it is ours spiritually. Too often we go off and try to make life work by ourselves, and we must realize this has never been what God intended. Jesus brings us to God and then brings us together. The call to Jesus Christ is also the call to love others in his name. To be brothers and sisters in the faith who tangibly love with relationships that reflect holiness and grace, and live with him and for him together. This is the way God made us to live. This is the way God saves us to live.