The Healing Touch - Jesus, more than a physician
By Jesus’ time, rabbinical teaching, with its minute strictures, had made matters even worse. If a leper even stuck his head inside a house, the house was pronounced unclean. It was illegal to greet a leper. Lepers had to remain at least 100 cubits away if they were upwind, and four cubits if downwind. Josephus, the Jewish historian, summed it up by saying that lepers were treated “as if they were, in effect, dead men”4—dead men walking. Indeed, to the rabbis the cure of a leper was as difficult as raising a person from the dead.5
In Biblical times the rare deliverances from leprosy were certified by an elaborate and uniquely joyful ceremony that extended over eight full days in fulfillment of the directives of Leviticus 14. It began when a priest met the would-be celebrant outside the camp and verified that he actually was healed. Then, still outside the camp, two birds were presented along with some cedar wood, scarlet yarn, and hyssop. One of the birds was killed in a clay pot (so that none of its blood was lost). This was done above fresh water (symbolic of cleansing). Next the live bird, along with the wood, yarn, and hyssop, was dipped in the blood, and blood was sprinkled upon the leper seven times as he was pronounced “clean.” This initial ceremony concluded with the live bird being released in the open fields to wing its way to freedom (vv. 1–7). As a result, the blood-sprinkled person could once again join the community. This foreshadowed the effect of Christ’s blood, which reconciles man to God and makes it possible for the sinner to join the household of faith.
After the bird’s release the cleansed man washed his clothing, shaved the hair from his body, bathed, and entered the camp, where he, his family, and friends rejoiced for seven days (vv. 8, 9). On the seventh day his head, eyebrows, and beard were shaved, and he again bathed, so that, like a newborn, he was ready to enter a new phase of his existence.1
On the eighth day the former leper offered three unblemished lambs as a guilt offering, a sin offering, and a burnt offering. The guilt offering was not an atoning sacrifice but a restitution for the offerings and sacrifices he was unable to make while a leper.2 His restitution and fresh commitment were then dramatically emphasized when the priest took some of the blood and smeared it on the offerer’s right ear, thumb, and toe, then coated each smear with a second anointing of oil, thereby symbolizing that the man would listen to God’s voice, use his hands for God’s glory, and walk in God’s ways. Fittingly, his shaved head was then anointed with the remaining oil (vv. 12–18; cf. Exodus 30:23–25). Finally, having thus declared the leper to be in the Lord’s service, the priest made atonement for him with sin, burnt, and cereal offerings, the last being a joyous expression of gratitude (Leviticus 14:19, 20).
Imagine the joy of the healed man and his family—and the communal celebration that accompanied that great eighth day. It was as if a resurrection had taken place. Very likely there was feasting and singing long into the night.
For us Christians, the Old Testament’s description of these ancient ceremonies elicits incredible joy not only because the Scriptures speak of Christ (cf. Luke 24:27; John 5:39), but also because this elaborate ritual specifically speaks of the atonement through Christ and his power to deliver. This is precisely what Jesus’ healing of the leper in Luke 5 is all is about.
Jesus did not say, “Go to a seminar on overcoming leprosy.” He said, “You need to be clean. You want to be clean. Therefore you will be clean right now.”
Maybe that’s a word for some who are feeling tainted, polluted, affected by some habit, some sin, something that has a grasp on you. At the moment you say from your heart, “I want to be clean,” the Lord will say, “Be thou clean.” Jesus not only spoke a word, but He touched this one who perhaps had not been touched in years due to his disease. So, too, the Lord doesn’t hold His nose and look away from us in disgust. Others might be put off by your sin or irritated with your flaws, but not Jesus. He embraces us.