Just a touch
The authority of Jesus
When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And 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.” — Matthew 8:1–4
He touched him.
Jesus actually touched him. The leper asks for healing. Of course he does, lepers are the cast outs of society, not allowed inside the town centres nor within city walls for fear of infection. They are, quite literally, untouchables. Lepers need to be cured to re-enter society. Then Jesus does the unthinkable and touches the untouchable. Jesus treats him as if he were already a member of society.
A point on touch here: I am autistic and sensitive to various stimuli. Touch is one of them. To me being touched without permission is a form of abuse. That included church ministers who decide to pray for me and put a hand on my head or shoulders. It may be well-meant, but it still feels abusive. All it takes is to say, “I’m going to put my hand on you now, is that all right?”
That is not happening here. The man with leprosy has initiated the contact. The man with leprosy has broken all the rules. Jesus is in a crowd, verse 1 makes that clear. For a leperous man to enter the crowd was a shocking thing to do. The whole point of isolating lepers was to contain a very contagious disease. I wonder, how many of the crowd fled immediately?
Jesus had no need to touch the man. Both Moses and Elisha had cured people of leprosy without touching, Jesus could have done the same. The touch is for a reason, Jesus is showing a man with leprosy that he has worth.
Do not tell, says Jesus. Why not? Surely the whole crowd will not have fled. There must have been people who saw this who would then tell others of what they had seen. But Jesus cared more for the man than that he was just a cured leper. Jesus cared that he could be a member of society, people who had got well from leprosy could not enter the Temple, the synagogue or society at large without being declared clean by a priest and then undergone ritual washing. Jesus had already accepted the man, now he makes it possible for other people to accept him as well.
The passage tells us about Jesus’ authority. Jesus has power over disease, even one as bad as leprosy. Jesus is a king with authority, and in his kingdom are people such as this man who was shunned by society, but is not shunned in the kingdom where Jesus is king.