When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed Him; and there was a leper who came to Him and knelt before Him, saying, "Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean." He stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, "I do choose. Be made clean!" Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Then Jesus said to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." (Matthew 8:1-4)
In those days people with leprosy had to keep their distance from other people. Did you know that Jesus had every right to throw stones at the leper to stop him coming near? In those days it was the done thing. You threw stones to warn the leper not to come too near you.
Can you imagine how lepers felt? Cast out of society. Thrown out by their families. No where to live. No job. No friends. No food. And eventually death by starvation or worse.
One day they were perhaps successful at their job, a family man, raising children and looking forwards to the future. The next day, they contract this terrible illness and they are cast out of this world. Through no fault of their own.
Today, people are mostly known by what they do rather than who they really are. They say I am a lawyer, architect, carpenter, cleaner or whatever. We are more focussed on status and possessions.
Can you imagine, at the time of the Bible story we've just read, people announcing themselves as "Unclean ... Unclean ..." to warn others not to come too near?
What if this happened to you? Instead of introducing yourself to someone you've just met by giving your name. Or by saying what you do in life. You announce yourself by saying "Keep away. I am unclean. I am a threat to you". You are known by your condition, not by who you really are. No matter who you were in the past, how successful or popular you were; right now you are someone to be avoided.
Yet, in this Gospel story, Jesus astonishes everyone by allowing this leper to approach Him. He even touches him. Onlookers must have thought Jesus had gone mad. Jesus was taking a great risk here. Because according to the law, if an unclean person touches or is touched by a clean person, then the clean person becomes unclean; and he too should be cast away from society. That is why Jesus says to the man after He healed him, say nothing to anyone about this. But the man is so overwhelmed by his healing that he tells everyone. And Jesus has to move away from that area and go travel and preach His mission elsewhere.
See the same story in Mark 1:40-45, where it reads, "But the man went out and openly began to proclaim and spread the news. Consequently, Jesus could no longer enter a town in plain view, but He stayed out in solitary places."
When Jesus approached him, the man, no doubt confused, hesitantly pleads, "Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean."
Note ... "if you choose". Not "if you can" or "please make me clean"; but "if you choose".
The man knows in his heart that Jesus is all-powerful. That Jesus can perform miracles and can heal him. He no doubt has heard many stories about Jesus. He probably saw Him perform miracles.
Yet he approaches Jesus and whilst seeking for a miraculous healing he adds the conditional, "if you choose".
The leper accepts unconditionally those words in the Lord's Prayer: "Thy will be done!" Do we ever do that? Let's pause and think about this for a while.
Jesus is touched by the leper's faith and heals him.
Do we, when we pray and ask God for favours, ask Him that His will be done for us, or for our loved ones? Or do we command Him to do what we ask for?
Is our prayer: Speak Lord your servant is listening.
Listen Lord, your master is speaking.