“Sir, if you want to, you can cure me.”
Friday, 25 June 2021
In today’s gospel, we read about the cure of a single leper. This comes at the end of the three chapters of preaching that begin with the Beatitudes (Chapter 5) and end with this story in Chapter 7. Matthew places all these teachings on the mountain, though they were likely given at different times. In this account, Jesus comes down from the mountain and is met by a leper, who comes and bows low before him, and asks: “Sir, if you want to, you can cure me.”
There are several striking things about this account. The first is that the man approaches Jesus. Lepers, according to the Old Testament, were viewed a cursed by God. Leprosy was so contagious that those afflicted had to keep to themselves and were forbidden to live in the community. They had to keep their distance from people and shout out the words “Unclean, Unclean!” if anybody came close. Yet this leper approaches Jesus and bows low before him.
The second is that the man has faith that Jesus can cure him: “if you want to, you can cure me.” Several times in the gospels, we meet people who come to Jesus with this kind of half-expectation “if you want to” or “if you can”, and a doubt that Jesus might actually want to cure them. Jesus reacts somewhat strongly to these half-hearted expressions of faith. In another passage, he is almost sarcastic: “If you can?” (repeating the words of the father of the epileptic boy) with a vehemence that was not lost on his hearers. (Mark 9:23)
The third is that Jesus reaches out and touches him. “Jesus reached out and touched him and said: “Of course I want to! Be cured!” and we read that Jesus cured his leprosy at once. Then Jesus warns him to go and show himself to the priest (as prescribed by the law) and make the offering prescribed by Moses.
There are several occasions where Jesus cures lepers in the gospel, sometimes singly, sometimes in a group. We notice that Jesus is not afraid of the disease. On the contrary, he pities those afflicted with the disease. Sometimes he touches them, something which was against the law.
What can we take from this reading? Firstly, that we are all like the leper. We all have parts of ourselves that need curing. The second is that Jesus is not afraid of our leprosy. He reaches out and touches us. Thirdly, that if we believe, we will be cured, as was this man.
Do we recognise the parts of ourselves that might have leprosy? Do we have the courage to approach Jesus? Do we ask, with this man, “if you want to?” Or do we approach with confidence, knowing that Jesus does want to heal us and make us whole?