From the moment he discovered the first mark on his body, he knew he was worse off than a corpse. At least people would touch a corpse. His body was covered with it: leprosy, the visible mark of his shame. Once the priests had confirmed it and declared him unclean, he’d been banished from the city to live alone. He’d spent his life since in mourning—his garments rent, his hair worn loose, one hand covering his upper lip as he cried out, “Unclean! Unclean!” It was hardly a life.
But then he’d heard about Jesus. And whatever he’d heard, he must have believed the reports, because when he saw Jesus walking in the city he ran to him, fell on his face before him, and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”
It was his only shot. There was no treatment for leprosy. No cure. His only hope was that he’d wake up one day and miraculously the leprosy would be gone. It must have felt a lot less like hope and a lot more like a cruel dream. Until Jesus.
Maybe he’d heard how Jesus had cast out a demon with only a word and thought Jesus would simply speak the leprosy away. Or maybe he thought Jesus would heal him by telling him to bathe in the Jordan River, like the prophet Elisha had done for Naaman (2 Kings 5). We can imagine he was ready for anything. Anything, that is, but this. After all, he was a leper, Jesus was a rabbi, and the Jewish law was clear. Lepers were not to be touched. So while we don’t know how long he’d gone without feeling the touch of another person, we can only imagine how he must have felt when Jesus’s hand came to rest on him.
a touch of love
Jesus’s touch must have felt like overwhelming love. We may not know what it’s like to live with leprosy, but we know what it’s like to live in isolation. To live without connection. It’s one of the great ironies of living in a world of virtual connectivity. We can be connected to thousands—literally millions—of people, and yet feel utterly and completely alone.
So we try to fill our isolation with activity. We bury ourselves in work. We volunteer at church. We focus on our children. We decide to give dating another go. All good things. But we don’t need to be told that those things won’t ultimately fulfill us. We already know that. At the end of the day, we’re not unlike that leper. We know hopelessness. Disconnection. Shame. And like him, we’re waiting for the day we will wake up and, miraculously, the isolation will be gone.
When Jesus touched the leper, He did so much more than heal him of his disease. He delivered him from a life of isolation. And just as it was only Jesus who could give the leper what he ultimately needed, only Jesus can do the same for us. When we feel alone, when we feel isolated, we can look to Jesus. He stepped into our isolation so we would never have to be alone. All we need to do is ask.