Jesus’ healing of the man with leprosy indicates the radical nature of Jesus’ kingdom breaking into the world’s reality. In the Old Testament those afflicted with leprosy were isolated and forced to stay apart; what is today called “social distancing”. They also were required to declare their uncleanliness lest anyone inadvertently get too close to them and possibly become infected. Even when the prophet Elisha healed the Syrian general Naaman, he didn’t approach or touch him, but sent him away to bath in the Jordan River. Modern medicine follows a similar approach to disease by creating barriers so that an infectious disease might not spread. Isolation of the infected and mask wearing by medical professionals have been common approaches for decades in the battle against disease. As I child I remember when those infected with Tuberculosis were sent away to Sanitariums to recover.
However, when the man with leprosy approached Jesus, Jesus didn’t put on gloves or a mask, he didn’t require social distancing or tell the man to isolate himself; on the contrary, after the man expressed belief that Jesus could heal him, Jesus reached out to the man and touched him. In the world, that would mean that Jesus had become infected, but the opposite took place, the leprosy fled from Jesus and left the man. Jesus’ action reveals how the kingdom of God is so different from how life is lived in the world. For those who follow Jesus, it requires a rethinking of how we approach life and the implications for living in this world. It also explains why those who don’t know Jesus live with such fear in a world filled with sickness, disease and tragedy. Yet the follower of Jesus can take courage from Jesus’ words that in this world we will experience tribulation, but to take heart because he has overcome the world. Jesus’ words mean that the follower of Jesus always has a reason to be joyful and always has a reason to have hope. That is a great way to live.