This Sunday, I will be using the following story as an introduction to a sermon on Mark 1:40-45. It is a dramatic retelling of the account of how Jesus cleansed a leper. It was written by Ron Peters and found in a sermon entitled, “God Touches,” by Rick Stacy. Powerful story!
There are two days that will forever stand out in my life, though they are completely opposite each other. The first day I will never forget was the day I woke up and found a small, white spot on the back of my hand. I had never had such a spot on my hand before, though I knew what it meant. I did my best to hide it, to prevent my wife and son from seeing it.
But in a few days, the single spot became several spots. I couldn’t hide it from my wife anymore. The pain in her eyes as the realization dawned on her was more than I could bear. My son was still too young to know what was going on, though he sensed the mounting tension in our family. We all did our best to carry on as though nothing was wrong, until one day when my son was helping me sharpen the sheep shears. He was playing nearby, when I heard him let out a cry. I turned to see a look of horror on his face as he looked at my hand which was holding the sharpening stone. At first I thought he was looking at the spots, but then I felt something drip onto my sandal. I looked down to see a pool of red. I had sliced my hand with the shears, and blood flowed from the deep cut. But it was not the wound that made my heart freeze with fear; it was the realization that I hadn’t noticed the cut – the realization that the leprosy had left my hand completely numb. I looked again at my son, whose face was now splattered with tears as he ran to get me a bandage for my hand. As I wrapped the wound, my heart ached at the thought that this would be the last memory my boy would ever have of his father.
That night, my wife and I discussed what to do. The course of action was the obvious – I was to present myself to the temple priests for inspection; but we both knew they would only confirm what we were already certain of. After that, I would be forced to leave the town where I grew up, the friends and family I knew and loved, and sped the rest of my life surrounded only by those suffering the same affliction.
The next morning, I made ready for the journey. For the last time, I embraced my wife. For the last time, I clutched my son, holding him up with my good arm, looking into his face and desperately choking back tears as we said good-bye. He didn’t know I would never be coming back, didn’t know that he could never see me again, and that if he did, he might not recognize me. I studied his face carefully, noting every freckle and dimple, burning them into my memory. Then I put him down, hugged my wife one last time, and walked out the door.
As the priests sent me away, their words echoed over and over in my ears. “Unclean! Unclean!” they cried as they covered their faces and turned their backs to me. And so it began – the isolation, the loneliness, the craving for companionship that was just beyond my reach. “Unclean, unclean!” I was forced to shout if anyone passed by. And so it was. The days turned to weeks, and the weeks to years, every day calling out “unclean, unclean” lest someone should come too close, lest they should be touched with my disease. With each passing day, my affliction spread over my body, forcing me deeper and deeper into exile.
And then, after the years of seclusion, the years of yearning to once again be in the company of those I knew and loved, there came another day I shall never forget.
I awoke that day to the sound of a crowd of people passing nearby. Fearing retribution for being too near, I quickly retreated a safe distance away, but I was intrigued by what might be going on. Staying hidden, I watched as the vast throng moved slowly along. Their attention seemed to be centered on a Man who was speaking to them. As I heard the words He spoke, something long silent stirred within me. I had heard of One whom people were saying was the Messiah, One who could perform miracles. I had even heard He had cured ten men of leprosy, though at the time, it seemed impossible. Not since the days of the prophet Elisha had such a miracle been performed. And yet as I stood there, outcast as I was, and listened to the words He spoke, I became more and more certain that this was more than a mere man, and indeed, more even than a prophet. And the stirring in me grew stronger with each moment, until I suddenly felt myself being drawn to Him, my feeble legs carrying my decaying body closer and closer to His presence.
As I approached, the people scattered in terror. In my eagerness to reach Him, I had not called out the warning, and now the crowds were clamoring over one another to escape coming into contact with me. Some stood between me and my Lord, shouted at me to leave. But He turned and looked at me, and in His eyes I saw a power and a compassion that I could not resist. Weak from the strain and excitement, I fell at His feet, and cried out to Him, “Lord, if you are willing, I know you can make me clean.” At that moment, my strength gave way, and I collapsed on the ground, trembling for what might happen next.
And then I felt the strangest thing. Not strange because it was new, but strange because it was all too familiar, something I had ached for but was certain I would never again experience. I felt His hand upon my shoulder. It was the first human touch I had felt since I embraced my wife and child for the last time years earlier.
He let His hand rest there, and I heard the words, “I will; you are made clean.” From that touch poured healing that brought new life to my whole body. Feeling returned to my fingers and toes, and the scales and spots that had riddled my skin disappeared. I stood up, and felt new strength flow through my body. I was healed! No longer would I have to warn others away; no longer would my days be filled with loneliness, sorrow and longing. Once again I could embrace my wife; once again I could hug my son. With one touch, the touch I had been craving for years, He brought life back to me. With one touch, He gave me a reason to live again.