I think I have a new kind of biblical hero. I just wish I knew his name. He appears in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. He’s the leper whom Jesus touched. And I want to be like him.
I’m going to tell you a story today that’s one of about a dozen stories that I’ve never really shared. A few months ago I stumbled upon an old stack of papers from my childhood. It was a little notebook filled with the names of basketball players with tally marks underneath them. Judging from the tally marks Shawn Kemp had dominated Charles Barkley in a one-on-one matchup.
As I poured through the pages I felt incredible shame and sadness. I had entire basketball leagues that I’d invented. Tournaments played out in my imagination. Just me. A hoop. And a basketball. That part isn’t incredibly sad. It’s that these seasons were played out on one end of the court, while my classmates played against each other on the other end. I didn’t get to play. For some reason my short stature made me repulsive. So, I became Shawn Kemp dominating Charles Barkley.
That notebook had seasons of these names and tally marks. Meticulous stats. And I remember when somebody discovered my secret stat book. I endured even more mockery. What a weird little kid I was, playing out basketball seasons by myself when all the other kids were playing together.
And each tally mark carried a message. “They’ve rejected you, Mike. They are going to reject you. You are less-than.” I’m realizing more and more these days how much I carry those messages around with me. I’m realizing that it causes me to keep others at a safe distance. It keeps me from pursuing things as well. And, I even try to keep Jesus at arms length (though he doesn’t seem to cooperate, thankfully).
This is what shame does. I’ve found Ed Welch to be correct:
Shame has a natural affinity with self-protection and unbelief. It hides form others, feels undeserving of anything good, and believes it will contaminate whatever comes close. (Welch, 137)
“They are always going to reject you….eventually.” This is the message my shame tells me. I’m fighting against that message these days. I’m trying to believe the gospel enough to pursue unguarded relationships with others. I’m trying to trust in Jesus enough to be authentic; authentic with others, myself, and ultimately with Him. The leper in Luke 5 helps me with this.
Jesus wasn’t doing ministry in a leper colony. That leper broke the Law in order to get to Jesus. He shouldn’t have pursued him. He shouldn’t have left his leper colony. He shouldn’t have been so close to Jesus. He shouldn’t have had the audacity to ask the Teacher to heal him. Leprosy doesn’t get healed—it was compared to raising the dead.
You can still hear shame in this guys voice when he says, “If you will, you can…” He doesn’t doubt for one moment Jesus’ ability. But does he want to?
But I think he knew the answer already. That’s why he left the leper colony. I say that not because this leper had some unheard of confidence. I say this because this is the type of response that Jesus brings about. Again I find Ed Welch insightful:
But look at what happened when Jesus came. Unclean people suddenly were filled with hope. Instead of hiding from the world, they became indifferent to the derision of the relatively clean townspeople and boldly went out to see Jesus. When they saw him, they felt compelled to touch him because they understood that their salvation was near. They came alive! (137)
I want to learn from this leper. “They will reject you”, is not a message that is definitive to that leper. He knew that Jesus was different. He left his shame and went boldly to Jesus. That’s a huge step, too. It’s much easier to believe the message, accept the rejection, and create a fantasy world where you can dunk on Charles Barkley.
We weren’t made for leper colonies or fantasy worlds. We were made for reality. Even if at times painful.
I would also note that even still Jesus had to “stretch out his arm” in order to touch the guy. He was still keeping himself at arms length. But Jesus crossed that barrier. And that touch carried so many words. “I’m not going to reject you” was chief among them.
Let’s follow this leper into the touch of Christ.
This article originally appeared here.