What’s your favorite picture of Jesus in the gospels?
That’s the question I asked in a recent post here on the Front Porch Swing.
Today, I am sharing two of my favorite pictures of Jesus touching an unclean person—or being touched by someone considered unclean.
Jesus touched a man with the dreaded disease of leprosy in Luke 5.
“While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him.” (Luke 5:12–13, ESV)
This is one of my favorite snapshots of our Lord. Luke—a physician—described the encounter with a doctor’s eye for detail. The man was “filled with leprosy.” The disease was in an advanced state and beyond medical hope. He may have very well been disfigured. Even repulsive.
For certain, he was considered unclean and forbidden to go near anybody. He knew “social distancing” before that unpleasant term ever entered human vocabulary. For years he lived outside the city—away from family and friends—forbidden to attend his local synagogue or celebrate Passover at the temple in Jerusalem. He hadn’t felt the assurance of human touch for years. Think of it! But one day, learning that Jesus was passing through the neighborhood, he deliberately broke all the cultural taboos.
Imagine the crowd scattering, faces filled with indignation and fear, as they saw this broken man approaching. Much as they despised him and objected to his presence, however, nobody dared to get close enough to push him aside. He kept coming toward Jesus, the only person who didn’t try to move a safe distance away. Falling prostrate, hardly daring to raise his eyes up toward Jesus, he begged, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” Notice that He didn’t say, “If you can…” He had heard enough about Jesus’ power over death and disease to believe. It was a question of the Lord’s attitude, not his ability.
Can you see him in that moment, kneeling in the dust before Jesus, shaking with anticipation and fear? No shame was too great to keep him from crying out for help in that moment. The crowd—standing at a safe distance—probably fell silent with anticipation. What would Jesus do? Would he say, “Be healed”? Or would he warn the desperate man away, shouting, “Stay back! No closer!” And who could blame him if he did?
Luke writes that Jesus “stretched out his hand and touched him.” We can almost imagine it in slow motion—the pure, sinless hand of God’s Son reaching closer and closer to the impure, defiled skin.
“I will,” he said. “Be clean.” Were more precious words ever spoken? And that touch! The physical contact of a warm, kindly hand. That must have been even more precious to him.
And the result came in the blink of an eye. Like a flash of summer lightning. “Immediately the leprosy left him.” No more social distancing. No more groveling. No more quarantine. The man returned to his home to break bread with his family.
We marvel at Jesus’ ability to heal, but his tender compassion in that moment is even more amazing. Touching the untouchable.
Jesus is touched by an outcast, unclean woman.
Luke shares another picture about a social outcast approaching Jesus.
“… As Jesus went, the people pressed around him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, she could not be healed by anyone. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased. And Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me.” And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”” (Luke 8:42–48, ESV)
Who wouldn’t fall in love with Jesus after seeing his response to this desperate woman? Surrounded by a crowd of curious onlookers pressing to get a little closer to Jesus is a woman—just as unclean as the man filled with leprosy. Her defilement may not have been outwardly visible, but physically and socially, it was just as lethal. And just as hopeless as well. She had already exhausted almost all of her monetary resources to pay doctor bills.
Because of her affliction, she was a social outcast, disqualified from attending synagogue or celebrating the grand feast days at the temple. In that culture, she was considered unclean; and everything she happened to touch would also become unclean. Legally, she shouldn’t have been mingling in the crowd of healthy people following Jesus that day. But like the leper, she had heard about this unusual Rabbi’s ability to heal. If only she could touch his clothing, she told herself—even the fringe of his robe—she would find help. And she had to try. The chance might not come again.
Unlike the leper, she didn’t publicly fall at Jesus’ feet, but stealthily crept up behind him as he passed. We can imagine her perspiring, her heart hammering in her chest. Would she actually have the courage to reach out her hand? And then her chance came. The crowd parted, just for a moment, and she thrust out a trembling hand, allowing her fingertips to simply brush the fringe of his garment.
No one saw or heard the mighty release of power in that moment. But she knew it, and so did Jesus.
The Rabbi from Nazareth turned in his tracks and addressed the crowd. “Who touched me?” It seemed like a ludicrous question, with the mob pressing tight around him. But Jesus persisted. “Somebody touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me.”
Finally the woman fell down before him, admitting her guilt and publicly declaring why she had dared such an act. Yes, she was afraid. But her fear must have surged alongside great joy in that moment. She knew beyond all doubt that she had been completely healed.
And how did Jesus respond to such a brash action? No need to worry about that. Filled with compassion, the Lord blessed her, affirming that her faith had made her whole. She was free to resume life. To attend synagogue and reconnect with her family and friends.
These are two of my favorite pictures of Jesus, delivering two social outcasts from bondage. One came with bold faith and received a healing touch. The other approached timidly and feather-brushed the hem of his robe. Both were healed. Both were cleansed. Both were restored to live a normal life with friends and family.
I love both of these pictures. One person publicly fell prostrate before Jesus asking to be healed. The other silently reached out to touch Jesus. Both received mercy. Both were loved by Jesus.
We also come to Jesus with different needs and different temperaments, and he responds with compassion and mercy
In either story, the camera is focused on Jesus, and that’s the way it ought to be.
Imagine the leper singing, “He touched me, and now I am no longer the same. I am whole!”
Imagine the woman declaring, “I touched him and I am whole!” One touch and the unclean woman was made clean. That same touch made Jesus legally unclean.
Like the leper and the unclean woman, each of us is a spiritual outcast. The filth of our sin separates us from our holy God, but when we come to Jesus in faith, he takes our sin on himself and places his righteousness on us.
Perhaps, having read this post, you could place yourself in one of these stories. Like the unclean leper and the woman, you realize that you have sinned against God. You are unclean. You are guilty and can offer nothing to deserve God’s love and grace.
Perhaps our sinful lifestyle has been observed by other people. Our guilt and moral filth is visible like the man scarred by leprosy. Or perhaps our sinful actions have been more secretive, and our spiritual uncleanness is out of sight, like that of the woman’s physical disease.
Either way, you and I are sinners. We have crossed the line and broken God’s commandments. We all fall short of the mark and are condemned, guilty rebels. Perhaps you are more like the leper who ran toward Jesus and openly begged for healing. Then again, you may be more like the timid woman slipping up behind Jesus incognito, seeking healing.
No matter! The key is to recognize your sin and seek Jesus’ healing touch of mercy and grace.
I encourage you to take that first step toward Jesus seeking to be cleansed and forgiven. If you desire God’s forgiveness and grace, and would like spiritual counsel, please reply to this post. I will respond and help us set up a private way to communicate with each other.
Nothing would give me more joy.