Travelling the road in Jakarta, Indonesia the scenes on the roadside can range from mildly amusing to deeply disturbing.
It’s mildly amusing to watch men selling American-made home-improvement magazines to drivers who were stopped in traffic on the highway. But the abject poverty of some families, individuals and children is deeply disturbing. Obviously without adequate housing, clothing, food, water, or sanitation, the people in these situations are utterly destitute and broken.
It’s difficult not to turn away from seeing that kind of poverty. They are scenes that often create responses in us that move from guilt to anger to disregard to apathy. In most cases, we simply divert our eyes and do nothing. We see the brokenness of life in this world and find it too much to process. But Jesus was different. He embraced this world’s brokenness and invested himself in it. In fact, he transformed the brokenness of life into something radically different.
Few things were more perplexing to the people of Jesus’s generation than his willingness to invest himself in the castoffs and the rejects of society. Jesus showed deep compassion and concern to the broken people that most others turned away from. Perhaps nowhere is this seen more clearly than in his interaction with one particular leper.
Remember that in Jesus’s day leprosy was an ugly, destructive disease that was feared as highly contagious. When a person developed a dry patch of skin, he would be examined by the priests, then isolated for a period of time. If a second examination proved that the spot was indeed leprous, the sufferer would be driven from his family, home, career, community, and synagogue to wander outside the realm of society. They would often live in exile communities with other stricken sufferers, and never allowed to reengage in life as known before contracting leprosy. If such an individual found themselves among “normal” people, they would have to cover their mouth and cry out: “Unclean! Unclean!” They had to tell people to stay away. Imagine the emotional isolation that would create, already isolated, telling people to stay away.
Lepers were the paradigm outcasts of their day—a clear, if not disturbing, picture of the brokenness of fallen people in a fallen world. They lived a life of isolation, sorrow, shame, and anguish.
All of this provides the background for Jesus’s extraordinary encounter with one leper. Matthew described the scene:
A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to the.” (MATTHEW 8:2–4).
Two things stand out: First, the boldness of the leper. I can almost imagine him charging toward Jesus, while the crowds parted like the Red Sea as this obviously afflicted man moved through them. His confident trust in Christ’s ability to heal him was a powerful motivator as he came to the Savior.
The second thing is the compassion of Christ—even though the word compassion is not used in the text. Jesus could have healed this man a dozen different ways. He could have healed him with a thought or a word or a gesture or a nod of His head or by asking him to do cover himself with mud from the banks of the Jordan River and then wash in another place. But He didn’t. Jesus violated every social and religious prohibition of the day as He healed the leper by touching him, the one thing that absolutely wasn’t done for a leper.
For a person who hadn’t felt human touch in years, the compassionate touch of Jesus would have contributed just as much to the healing of this leprous man’s lonely heart as it did to the healing of his diseased body. It’s powerful to see the degree to which Jesus was willing to go in order to impact this one deeply broken life.
But why? Why would Jesus go to such lengths to engage a broken world? Perhaps we can find a hint of the answer in the New Testament letter to the Hebrews. There we read:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (HEBREWS 4:15–16).
Jesus experienced life at its most challenging levels. And he did this, in part, so that when we are broken by our own struggles and turn to Him for help, part of the comfort we receive is in knowing that he understands. He understands because he willingly inserted himself into human life—engaging, experiencing, and embracing broken people at the point of their need.
Jesus impacts broken lives because he was willing to inject his divine wholeness into their brokenness. Instead of God calling us to make ourselves better, he came to our brokenness.