1When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him.
2And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”
3And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
4And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”
This is one of those passages where a fertile imagination is helpful. Place yourself into this scene. Jesus has just delivered a message that is brilliant, revolutionary, and challenging. He has up-ended the status quo and His authority over all things is beginning to emerge. Now a man steps forward that is leprous. As the rest of the crowd shrinks back, so as to remain free of this person who carries uncleanness with him, Jesus stands alone, graciously receiving this person no one else will touch. Jesus is rightfully called “Lord” by the leper and gives him the attention no one else will give. Clearly, the leper has been moved in the direction of faith. It may be a fledgling faith, but it is faith. The leper acknowledges two important things about Jesus. Jesus has the power to say yes or no to his request and He has the authority to make a drastic change in this man’s life. He’s about to test out what Jesus has just preached in the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus is gracious and agrees to heal the man. All it takes are the words “be clean” and it’s done. The disease that had shaped this man’s entire life was now gone suddenly and completely. While everyone else who may have touched this man would have been considered unclean, the touch of Jesus does just the opposite; the man is now clean. Jesus is able to impart purity. In all likelihood, most of you have never experienced leprosy. But we have experience the stain of sin. So the same holds true for us as held true for that leper. When Jesus touches us with His forgiveness, He is not made sinful: instead we are made pure.
Why does Jesus tell the man not to speak of this event? Commentators appear to be divided. The most common thought has been that Jesus was not yet ready for fame. But that doesn’t really hold much water, for His fame is spreading without any problem already. A more likely idea may be that the man should not be distracted on his way to Jerusalem by telling his story others. Instead he needs to make the (long) trip to the Temple and let his new status as a functioning member of the culture become known. It was appropriate for him to make the thank-offering and have his cleanliness declared by the priest. Telling the story of this miracle can happen after he takes care of business.