When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean."
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!"
Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, "See that you don't tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." Matthew 8:1-4
As my 6th-grade classmates plugged their noses in disgust, I knew I was in trouble. It was a scorcher of a day. The school's broken air condition didn't help matters. As we continued to roast in the chorus room, a funky smell began to set in. People looked around and wondered about the cause of the puttered odor. Self-conscious, I prayed they wouldn't figure out it was me, but on that day, God failed to answer my plea.
I had on a brand-new shirt and, being the ultra-rebel that I am; I didn't heed the warning to wash before I wore it. That's when the perfect storm of funkiness set in. A mixture of sweat, fabric, and my overall adolescent boy odor created a stench that even a skunk would find grotesque.
For the rest of the day, no one would get anywhere close to me. Wherever I went, people turned in the opposite direction. Empty desks surrounded me. This might be due to it being such an emotionally scarring event, but to this day, I believe classmates yelled, "UNCLEAN! UNCLEAN!" while walking far behind me.
On that day, in middle school social circles, I was a leper. Shunned. Isolated. Ridiculed. Looked down upon. Those same feelings of shame, inadequacy, and loneliness were what the man in today's passage felt for his ENTIRE life. People slapped the unclean label and sent him on his way. Outcasts like him lived on the outskirts of town.
The man who society disregarded and dismissed heard that Jesus would be making His way through town. If anyone could heal Him, he reckoned it was Jesus. So, in a display of boldness, the man made his way into the city and knelt before Him. He heard the gasps. He saw the people turn away, and the crowd part to avoid Him. It didn't matter. All he cared about was getting to the man who performed miracles.
The leper experienced not only physical healing of his body but a restored soul. It came in the form of touch. With a word, Jesus could have healed this leper of his affliction. But, like He tends to do, Jesus did something much more powerful and profound. He reached out His hand and touched someone who had been told day after day that he was unclean.
What He did wasn't so much for the crowd, even though, Jesus did want them to check their hearts and see where judgment resided. But, by placing His hand on the leper, He spoke something deep into this man's soul without uttering a word:
No matter how dirty you might feel, I can make you clean.
No matter how worthless you think you are, I declare that you're worthy of my love.
No matter the labels society places on you, I want to replace it with a better one..my son.
No matter if you feel invisible, unlovable, and neglected, I see you and love you.
It's the same message Jesus wants to remind you of today.
Where do you need to feel the touch of Jesus today and be reminded that You are worthy, valuable, and loved?
God, You speak worth and value over me. You entered my mess and made me clean. When the world wants to label and judge me, I will remember that I'm covered in grace. In Your name, Jesus. Amen.