"IF YOU ARE WILLING, YOU CAN MAKE ME CLEAN!"
I've had a particularly blessed life. My wife and I are about to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. We are blessed with four incredible children. I have wonderful friends in my life. We are blessed beyond any reasonable measure by belonging to a wonderful church. I have lots of toys, and more shoes than I can wear. I have the world's best job. But, some aren't so blessed. They hurt. They feel stained, stigmatised, misunderstood, let down. We who are blessed are sometimes seen as contributing to this. One day, the most blessed man to have ever lived was tested over this very matter.
And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean."
SO MANY WONDERING
Somehow Jesus managed to win most of the marginalised and upset most of the Establishment without compromising one verse of the Bible. When He came to earth that first Christmas as a zygote, he felt the ache, the pain, the hurt of everyone He came in contact with. And His heart broke for each of them. To the victim of prostitution, Jesus offered forgiveness, deep emotional cleansing, psychological healing. To the ethnically-challenged woman with the wrong accent and the wrong skin colour, He offered acceptance and grace. To the man bound by unwanted feelings and ostricised by society, Jesus offered wholesome touch, interested conversation, and a meaningful job. To the lonely public figure who didn't want to be seen with Jesus in daylight, Christ offered discretion, and one of the greatest spiritual insights ever revealed. Today, so many are wondering if the followers of Christ could share with them some of these same graces.
Jesus stood up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She said, "No one, Lord."
And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more."
Jesus didn't excuse her sin. On the contrary, He saw it as the source of her greatest problem. Sin is no one's friend and everyone's enemy. Sin is more deceitful than a lie because it blindsits victim - not by removing its victim's sight, but by convincing its victim that the obvious is not real. It takes a miracle to be awakened from such a Théoden-like stupor. Until then, a soul-blind person will always be deceived into thinking that the very thing which despises them most is the answer to the problem which it has actually caused. In the old days the alchemists prescribed a little arsenic for such things as head-aches, vomiting, diarrhea, and convulsions. The more arsenic their patients took, the worse these symptoms got. Sin is like arsenic for the soul. Like Jesus though, we don't wag our fingers and look down our noses at those who are poisoned by sin. Rather, we feel compassion for them and try to offer God's antedote - the very thing their soul aches for (even though they describe this ache with words like respect, acceptance, tolerance, love, dignity).
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
But this offer of God's antedote is seen through the eyes of a sin-stained soul as a slap, a condemnation, a rejection, a denouncement. But it is not. It often results in anger, outrage, and hatred. The story is told of a pro-golfer who played a round of golf with Billy Graham, the preacher. After the 18 holes the pro-golfer stormed into the locker-room and threw his golf bag down against the wall in anger. Another golfer enquired as to whether he was alright? He said that Billy Graham didn't let up. At every hole he was preaching at him. By the 18th hole, he was so angry at Billy Graham for making him feel guilty and so aware of his sin. "Wow!" said his sympathetic locker-room buddy, He really gave it to you then?" "Actually, he didn't say a word" admitted the pro-golfer rather sheepishly. I've actually had many conversations like that one.
If I [Jesus] had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: 'They hated me without a cause.
Have you ever seen something white then realised that it was actually off-white when something whiter was placed against it? In a similar way it seems that the religious leaders of Jesus' day thought they were pretty holy - until Jesus came. His impeccably pure life contrasted with their tainted version of it. As the above verses quoting Jesus reveal, they quickly hated Jesus for making them feel unclean. For these religious leaders being unclean was the worst possible social stigma. They required lepers to call out "UNCLEAN, UNCLEAN" as they came near other people. Jesus was publicly stating that it wasn't just lepers who wereunclean-
¶ "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness.
The ones who denied their uncleanness were the ones who hated Jesus and what He was about the most. The ones who knew they were unclean were the ones who came to Jesus for cleansing. This brings us back to our opening text in Matthew 8:2 where the unclean leper comes to Jesus and rather than protest that Jesus is making him feel unclean, he asks Jesus for help. But not merely help, he wants his soul as well as his body "cleansed". How many people today hate Jesus by hating His followers and don't really understand why they feel this way? This is one of the tricks that sin plays on its victims - it blame-shifts and makes the solution feel like the cause of the problem. The leper that came to Jesus had to swallow his pride, like anyone who wants to come to Jesus even today, and admit that the problem was the problem rather than trying to make the solution the problem. The result for the leper was that not only was his leprosy cleansed, but so was his heart and soul. How many people today who similarly feel stigmatised, marginalised, or despised have been tricked by the Enemy of their soul that this is the cause of their problems?
At our recent Easter meetings we heard from Annie who shared of her spiralling down into prostitution and drugs. She feltunclean. When she cried out to Jesus for cleansing her life was slowly but dramatically turned around and she was drawn to go to church - but she feared how these nice church people would look down at her. When she arrived in church that first Sunday she was overwhelmed with the love, acceptance and forgiveness she experienced. And Annie Lobert is not the only one to discover that what she thought was the problem was actually part of the solution!
The leper of Matthew 8 approached Jesus with a degree of uncertainty. He was really asking through his confusion and insecurity: "Jesus, are You willing to help me? Are you willing to heal me?"
And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, "I will; be clean." And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
You'll find the same response from Jesus today. He is willing to cleanse, heal, forgive, save, accept, all those who humbly come to Him. The uncomfortable and humbling truth of the matter is though, that He does this today through His followers, the Church. The Enemy hates Christ and therefore the Enemy hates the Church and does all in his vile underhandedness to make its sin-gripped soul-aching victims believe that Christians and their message of grace are the problem. Even still, Jesus is willing to offer hope, cleansing, healing, salvation and a fresh start. He now calls us to compassionately help those who ache to be set free. And, like Jesus, we will.
¶ So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."