Cure of a leper

Anthony Zimmerman
Reproduced with Permission

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" Matt 8:1-4).

We can imagine that Jesus was glad to see the great crowds follow Him, after having heard the lengthy Sermon on the Mount. One thing the people liked about His speech was the fact that He spoke on His own authority, whereas the rabbis made their speech dependent upon quoting other rabbis. Also the contents made sense and were at work within themselves, renewing their lives. Finally, His speech was pleasant to the ears, due no doubt to the tutoring He had received from Mary and Joseph. For Jesus it was important that many would hear the message of the kingdom of heaven directly from Himself during the three short years He had to left to spend on our fair earth. Then, after Pentecost, when Peter and the Apostles would proclaim what Jesus had said and done, there would be some among the crowd who had heard and seen Him too, who could verify the truth of of the apostolic preaching. Also, after the Gospels were written and circulated, there would be older Israelites still alive who would also remember: "Yes that is what He said, and that is what He did."

The farmers and villagers who followed Jesus did not have to punch clocks at factories and banks, so their schedule was mostly flexible. There was no need for Jesus to hire lecture halls and get civic permits to hold assemblies and to work public miracles. The hillsides, the roadsides, and the sea-sides under the open sky were just fine for all this. The Sea of Galilee being 700 feet below sea level, with salubrious weather winter and summer, provided that dense atmosphere which filtered out harmful sun rays even at high noon. Jesus, Co-Designer of the cosmos with the Father and the Spirit, knew perfectly well why He chose to be born and to pass His thirty-three years of life on earth in this most lovely garden park of our planet.

The Gospel according to Matthew, chapters eight and nine, relate a series of miracles as well as of sundry instructions, working up to chapter ten when the disciples themselves made their teething debut as as evangelizers. Matthew pegs the events on changing geographic locations rather than on a chronological or a logical sequence. Chapter eight now begins abruptly with a miracle, the cure of a leper.

This leper was a most extraordinary man who manifested great courage. The rules that lepers were obliged to keep were hard as cast-iron, whose taboos were unbreakable. They are thus prescribed in the Book of Leviticus:

The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, "Unclean, unclean." He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp (Leviticus 13:45).

Lepers probably had few friends, as we gather from Psalm 38: "My friends avoid me like a leper, those closest to me stand afar off." They were forbidden ever to enter temple grounds. Their wretched clothing and disheveled hair were to be their expression of being miserable, as separated from God and from His People.

But this man did not stay apart from the crowd that followed Jesus. He broke right into the ranks and squeezed through until He made his way within touching distance of Jesus. This indicates that he already had faith in Jesus, and with that he could break out of his miserable life of quarantine. And Jesus broke the rules too, by touching him, which was taboo. But Jesus desired to touch the contamination in order to cure it. We can take comfort from this when we, too, kneel in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament and say with the leper: "Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean."

My departed classmate, Father Wiesen, for many years the beloved pastor of a parish in Nagasaki, told me that when he had special problems and Jesus was not listening to his prayers, he would sometimes go up to the tabernacle and knock on the door saying: "Jesus, are you there?" It was his way of intense petition. This innovative leper might well have served as a good companion of Fr. Wiesen.

No sooner had Jesus said, "Be made clean" when the leprosy left the man. In an instant, by the power of God almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, the putrid skin morphed into the pink and soft skin of a new-born baby. The man rose jubilant. Perhaps he looked daggers at people who had but a second ago tried to push him away.

Some of the Fathers of the Church like to point out that when Jesus worked such miracles, He employed His power as Creator, as the Son of God, to do what the Son of Man could not do with His human nature alone. With human power he commanded and announced the cure, with divine power He performed the cure.

A remarkable passage in the Gospel according to Saint Mark gives us an insight into the dual powers and perceptions of the God-Man Jesus. The passage states that Jesus felt power going through His body when He cured the woman who was suffering from hemorrhages. Apparently the power did not originate from His physical body, but the body felt the surge of God's power go through it when God cured the woman:

She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, "If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well." Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, "Who touched my clothes?" And his disciples said to him, "You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, 'Who touched me?'" He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth (Mark 5:28-33).

Jesus was physically aware that "power had gone forth from him." What might this mean? It appears that God was using the body of Jesus as the instrument by which God did the healings. A note in the NIV Study Bible states: "The woman was healed because God graciously determined to heal her through the power then active in Jesus." The Jerome Biblical Commentary explains it like this: "Jesus is described as possessing an almost magical healing power that operates automatically upon contact with him" (42:33-34). The following verses then correct this idea by explaining that faith must accompany the touch.

We must also keep in mind that when God operates miracles through the instrumentality of the human nature of Jesus, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit operate the miracle in unison. As Pope Leo the Great explained:

And so whatever loyal hearts can conceive of the Father's eternal and unchangeable Glory, let them at the same time understand it of the Son and of the Holy Ghost without any separation or difference. For we confess this blessed Trinity to be One God for this reason, because in these three Persons there is no diversity either of substance, or of power, or of will, or of operation (Sermon One on Pentecost, see Logos CD).

We take it, then, that Jesus as Man, with body and soul like our own, with a created human intellect and will, knew very well with His human mind what He was doing, and He decided freely with His human will that He do it. Jesus did not merely pray for miracles with His human mind and will, as we do. We pray and then stand by as God responds. But Jesus gave command with His humanity and then He operated as God deploying His divine power. But when Jesus used His human mind and heart to do a healing, He already presented His human nature as the instrument through which God would then do the healing. So when He commanded to the dead Lazarus: "Lazarus, come forth" it was the God-Man Jesus who gave command, and it was the God-Man Jesus who with the Father and the Spirit located the soul of Lazarus on the loose in the cosmos, grabbed it, and fixed it back into the stiff body of Lazarus which was already giving off a stench. Lazarus lived again. And when the leper knelt before Jesus and prayed: "Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean," it was the God-Man Jesus who said: "I do choose. Be made clean!" And with the Father and the Spirit He then cleansed the leper.

The union in Jesus of two natures in one Person is called the "Hypostatic" Union. The Greek term hypo means below, and static means to stand. The human nature of Jesus stood below the Divine Person. There is only one Person in Jesus, then, the Divine Person who takes all the responsibility for the actions of the God-Man.

Let us put ourselves into the torn clothes of the leper who was now clean. His first impulse would be, I suppose to rejoice and jubilate, like the beggar at the temple whom Peter and John had healed, who went walking and jumping and praising God (Acts 3:8).

But Jesus reminded the now-healed leper that he still had a job to do: he must go to the priests to have his healing certified and then offer a gift of thanks to God as described in Leviticus Chapter 14. Jesus perhaps had two things in mind: He didn't want that the cured leper should stand there and get the people over-excited and proclaim Him as the Messiah. That might precipitate a pre-mature show-down between Himself and the Sanhedrin. He also wanted that the man go to the priests who would then see with their own eyes that a miracle had taken place. Saint Chrysostom adds that he would thus be their accuser, blaming them for not believing in Jesus, whereas the leper clearly did believe in Him (Sermon 26).

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for healing this leper. Thank you also for healing me, not once but often, from the leprosy of sin. And have mercy on our modern world and heal us of the leprosy of unbelief. We all have a duty and an obligation to believe in You as our Lord and Creator, and to obey the Ten Commandments, whether we be mere tax payers or aspiring presidential candidates.