Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Second Sunday in Great Lent

Sermon / Homily on St. Luke 5: 12-16

Healing of the Leper

by Dr. Donald T. Williams

Gospel: Luke 5:12-16

Luke 5:12 And it came about that while he was in one of the cities, behold, there was a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus he fell on his face and implored him, saying, "Lord, if you are willing you can make me clean." 13 And he stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, "I am willing; be cleansed." And immediately the leprosy left him. 14 And he ordered him to tell no one, "But go and show yourself to the priest and make an offering for your cleansing, just as Moses commanded., for a testimony to them." 15 But the news about him was spreading even farther, and great multitudes were gathering to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But he himself would often slip away to the wilderness to pray.


In the beginning of his Public Ministry, we saw the Lord call Peter and his friends to follow him and become fishers of men. Luke follows this story with several examples of Jesus showing Peter and his friends just what he meant by that. Today we would like to examine the first of two, the healings of a leper. Next week we will see Jesus healing a paralytic. Later we will look at a third: the call of Levi (or Matthew), a despised tax collector, to join the inner band of disciples and be also a fisher of men. In other words, to be a fisher of men, to be a disciple of Jesus, you have to be ready and willing to minister both to and with people you might not otherwise want to touch.


The cleansing of the leper reveals three facts about the Lord that are relevant to his followers.


We've already seen Jesus power over temptation, over demons, over disease, and over nature (the fish). What does this encounter add to that? Well, first we see his power over leprosy. To us, this might just seem to be another example of Jesus' power over sickness. But to the first century Jews who observed this healing, it was a special case. Leprosy was incurable and very serious, leading to the mutilation of the body as the extremities were literally worn away due to the loss of feeling in the nerves. It made a person ceremonially unclean. None of the contemporary "faith healers" would even attempt a cure of leprosy; it was considered incurable except by God himself. So Jesus' cure of this man was unprecedented in the experience of those who witnessed it. It was one more indication to his disciples that the Person they were following was more than just a man sent by God; he was in some sense God himself. Peter, in other words, was being given one more opportunity to respond as he had done at the unaccountable draft of fish.

But we also see something else here: Jesus' power or authority over the Law. It was against the Law to touch a leper, but Jesus does it anyway in order to heal him. Yet then, having ignored the Law himself, Jesus turns around and upholds it as far as the leper himself is concerned, commanding him to show himself to the priest and make the requisite sacrifice. What is going on here? Why the seeming inconsistency? We cannot appeal to the distinction between the "moral" law and the "ceremonial" law, because both of these rules belong to the ceremonial law, and, besides, it was still in force until the veil of the Temple was split anyway. Yet, if Jesus was simply footloose about the law, why bother insisting on the priestly examination and the sacrifice? The answer is that the King is here, one who has the authority to make exceptions. Jesus did not need the protection which the prohibition of touching lepers was designed to give, and his desire to personalize the healing through touch was more important than adherence to the letter. In effect, Jesus bypasses the letter of the Law to uphold the spirit of it. It is good for this man to be touched; it is also good for him to keep the Law as concerning himself, for otherwise he will not be able to re-enter society. For us that would likely be a rationalization. But the Law of God is not something passed by a legislature. It is the revelation of the will of the King, and therefore the King has the authority to suspend it for his own purposes. One who is able to heal leprosy, one who is even greater than the Law--what manner of man is this?


Jesus did not need to touch this leper in order to heal him. He has already shown himself capable of healing with a word, even from a distance. So why do it? Because touching is a way of establishing a relationship, of expressing identification, and of showing compassion. Ultimately that was the reason for this gesture; to heal in such a way that it was an expression not just of power but of compassion for this suffering individual. Doing it that way was important enough to Jesus that he was willing to suspend his own Law to do it, important enough that he didn't care what anyone else thought about it. If we are going to be fishers of men for a leader like this, we had better learn to do the same kinds of things for the same reasons.


Jesus was obviously not in pursuit of popularity as such. Otherwise he would have encouraged word of mouth advertising instead of actually forbidding it in many cases, as here. But the leper could not help himself, and so he told about what had happened to him anyway, the word got out, and the crowds increased. So what was Jesus' reaction? "Oh boy, the crowds are increasing, our constituency is growing, so let's build a bigger sanctuary and add all their names to our direct-mail fundraising file." Not exactly. He would often slip away to pray, to be alone with the Father. Now, a lot of Jesus' fishers need to pay attention at this point. Many of us act as if popularity were an end in itself, as if it were what we were actually in the ministry for. A more attentive follower of Christ was the great Reformer Martin Luther, who when asked why he had stayed an extra hour in his prayer chamber explained that it was because he had so much to accomplish that day. Ministry is not about us, it is not about numbers and influence, it is not even ultimately about the lost. It is ultimately about God. If we forget that, nothing else we do really matters. Jesus' example here can help us remember it.


What is the message of all this to Peter and his friends who are now observing as Christ models man-fishing for them? They should be learning that in order to be a fisher of men you have to get your hands dirty. Christian ministry is not something that can happen in an ivory tower. To be effective in it you have to get involved with people; you have to be willing to touch the untouchable. The point is made physically here with the leper; it will be made in a different way next week with the calling of Levi. There is no real ministry without risk, without exposure. It is costly. Dr. Francis Schaeffer of L'Abri fellowship put it like this:

"Don't start a big program. Don't suddenly think you can add to your church budget and begin. Start personally and start in your homes. I dare you. I dare you in the name of Jesus Christ. Do what I am going to suggest. Begin by opening your home for community. . . . L'Abri is costly. If you think what God has done here is easy, you don't understand. It is a costly business to have a sense of community. L'Abri cannot be explained merely by the clear doctrine that is preached; it cannot be explained by the fact that God here has been giving intellectual answers to intellectual questions. I think those two things are important, but L'Abri cannot be explained if you remove the third. And that is that there has been some community here. And it has been costly. In about the first three years of L'Abri all our wedding presents were wiped out. Our sheets were torn. Holes were burned in our rugs. . . . Blacks came to our table. Orientals came to our table. It couldn't happen in any other way. Drugs came to our place. People vomited in our rooms, in the rooms of Chalet Les Melezes which was our home, and now in the rest of the chalets of L'Abri. How many times has this happened to you? You see, you don't need a big program. You don't have to convince your session or your board. All you have to do is open your home and begin."

Perhaps not everybody is called to take the kind of risks the Schaeffers took. But there is no man-fishing that follows Jesus without some kind of risk. I have seen churches with dress codes, churches which would have gone into apoplexy if the "wrong" kind of person came there to be saved. This is less than Christian discipleship; it has missed the lessons in being fishers of men that Jesus wanted Peter and his friends to understand.

O. K., then, someone is going to say, if we do not hide from the world, if we are going to be willing to go out into it and get our hands dirty, how will we maintain our own purity and avoid compromise with the world? I would have to ask, purity from what? What a lot of Christians call "purity" is a very artificial construct that has very little to do with the way Jesus actually loved and ministered. It is mainly an excuse to avoid the way Jesus actually loved and ministered, to avoid real risky following of our Lord. Yet there is a moral purity, rooted in a purity of devotion to the One who leads us into these non-antiseptic situations, with which we do need to be concerned. And the answer to preserving that is not in preserving it so much as in nourishing it. That is what Jesus shows us in vs. 16. Our connection with God has to be strong to maintain us in all the challenges of life. So like Jesus, we must make the pursuit of it a priority. If I do not love the Lord and pursue fellowship with him, what do I have to offer anyone else? To be a fisher of men we have to be a disciple; to be a disciple is to attend to and follow Jesus' example. This we must never forget.


What manner of man is Jesus Christ? He is one who identifies with sinners, who says no to Satan, who bosses demons around, who fills fishnets, who touches lepers, who forgives sins, and who accepts sinners. He is one who raises the issue of sin and forgiveness when no one else does, even if ti is controversial. And he calls us to follow him and pay attention to these things so that we too can be fishers of men. So we must begin by putting ourselves in the place of Peter and his friends, the newly called fishers of men, as they watch Jesus model their job for them. And we must ourselves accept the fact that we are forgiven sinners because Jesus died on the Cross for our sins, and we must become so appreciative of this fact that we can't help sharing it. For until you begin to feel that way, you do not yet understand what the Christian faith is all about.

[Excerpted from a Sermon by Dr. Donald T. Williams.]

See Also:

The Healing Touch - Sermon on Luke 5:12-16
by Rev. Christopher Sandoval

The Healing of the Leper - Sermon Based on Luke 5:12-16
by Don Fortner

Filled With Compassion
by Linton Smith

The High Priest Who Heals
by Brian Evans

Jesus Reaching out to a Leper
by J.D. Myers

Sermons, Bible Commentaries and Bible Analyses for 2nd Sunday in Great Lent (Garbo Sunday)

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