Don’t get me wrong; meeting someone’s needs it important. It’s important, but it’s easily outsourced. We can just write a check. We can just meet our quota of serving once per year. We can pop in and pop out of given situations. It is entirely possible for us to meet people’s needs and yet never personally invest in people.
The man was a leper.
Leprosy was a category of several kinds of skin diseases which were difficult to treat in the ancient world and threatened to spread quickly. For this reason, the Old Testament gave the Israelites specific and drastic instructions for dealing with leprosy:
“The person who has a case of serious skin disease is to have his clothes torn and his hair hanging loose, and he must cover his mouth and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean!’ He will remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He must live alone in a place outside the camp” (Lev. 13:45-46).
Lepers lost their jobs, families, and community. And since it was often assumed that leprosy was the result of a curse from God, they lost the respect of their peers and the opportunity to worship. Lepers lived under rules of forced loneliness, without ever receiving a hug, a caring touch, or even the close presence of a healthy person. One Old Testament reference (Numbers 12:12) prompted rabbis to speak of lepers as “the living dead.”
So it was with this man. He was a leper, and everyone knew it. They knew it by his appearance. His clothing. His cries. They knew it. So did Jesus. And that makes this encounter all the more remarkable:
While he was in one of the towns, a man was there who had leprosy all over him. He saw Jesus, fell facedown, and begged him: “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Reaching out his hand, Jesus touched him, saying, “I am willing; be made clean,” and immediately the leprosy left him (Luke 5:12-13).