Jesus Heals the Leper
In biblical times, the term leprosy was used to describe a number of similar skin diseases. Characterized by visible open sores and other blemishes on the body, leprosy was nearly impossible to hide, and at the time there was no known cure — or even any effective forms of treatment. As such, when Jesus heals a leper, as described in the Gospel of Matthew, it was one of his most famous miracles.
Jesus Heals the Leper: Background and Summary
The story of Jesus and the leper is found in the Bible in the first verses of Matthew, chapter eight.
1 When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him.
2 A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
3 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy.
4 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 them.”
View an excerpt from The Chosen, episode 5 of season 1, depicting this event.
In the Holy Land during the time of Jesus' ministry, those afflicted with leprosy had very difficult lives. Lepers were ostracized and cast out, forced to endure the pains and debilitations of their disease all alone. Partially, the reasoning behind this isolation was practical: leprosy was thought to be extremely contagious, and by removing infected individuals from society, the people at the time believed they were helping stem the spread of the disease.
But perhaps even more so, leprosy had become something of a metaphor. At a time and place where ritualistic cleanliness was considered an absolutely vital component to spiritual purity, leprosy had come to represent the corrupting, insidious nature of sin. Thus it was only natural for the God-fearing people to want to distance themselves from it, and from those who carried it.
With this in mind, one can only imagine the utter despair that came from contracting the disease. The leper who approached Jesus and His disciples as they descended the mountain probably had nothing left. His life, as far as the world around him was concerned, was over. In fact, most of society would probably have preferred that he simply die. And he, in his heart, may have wished for the same thing.
We don’t know how this man managed to track down Jesus, but when he found the Him, all he could do was beg for help. With a few words, Jesus cleansed the leper of his disease. And then, He told him to go and get His life back.
More than a Miracle
When this account takes place, Jesus had already performed several mighty miracles, including healing the sick. But while Jesus healed lepers again later in his ministry, we have no record of Jesus healing leprosy before this chapter. However, Jewish tradition at the time would have included several stories of lepers being cured through the power of God (Naaman, Miriam, and even Moses experienced these skin conditions and were miraculously cured).
In Leviticus 13:45, we’re told that those who were afflicted with leprosy were required by law to tear their clothing, and to call out “Unclean! Unclean!” wherever they went. They were forced to make themselves so unpresentable that they could be easily spotted at a distance. And, the stigma of leprosy extended to anyone who might have the misfortune of encountering them; just having direct physical contact with someone with leprosy would make a person equally unclean in the eyes of the people.
As depicted in the New Testament, Jesus reached out and touched the man, something that would have been unthinkable given the cultural implications. He could have healed the man with his words alone (a power that he demonstrated a number of other times), but instead He made the conscious choice to make a more personal connection.
Jesus Heals People from the Leprosy of Sin
As previously mentioned, throughout scriptures, leprosy has come to represent sin. In fact, in several instances in the Old Testament, leprosy is viewed as a direct punishment from God. The fact that a person suffering from leprosy could not be declared clean, and thus could not perform essential purification rituals, essentially meant that their condition deprived them of their connection to Him.
Why Did Jesus Say Not to Tell Anyone?
One final aspect of the story that may be worth considering is Jesus’ request of the healed leper — to go and have himself inspected and pronounced clean at the temple, and not to tell anyone of the miracle itself.
This may seem like an odd request. Wouldn’t the leper’s experience have served to bring others to Jesus? In any case, we learn in the Gospel of Mark that the man did tell people about what happened, and given the miraculous nature of the experience, we can hardly blame him. So why would Jesus ask the man not to talk about it in the first place?
The most obvious answer to this is also found in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 1, verse 45.
45 Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.
Simply put, Jesus’ increased fame made it more difficult to enter towns and teach His people. But regardless, the people came out to him wherever he went.
But perhaps there is more to Jesus' request. As depicted in the New Testament, when Jesus healed the leper, he didn’t do it for his own glory, or as a way to silence his critics. This is illustrated in chapter 6 of the Book of Matthew.
1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.
3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,
4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
If you haven’t already, check out Angel Studios’ The Chosen to view the first-ever multi-season show about the life of Jesus. This historical drama set in Judaea and Galilee in the first century CE follows Jesus and those who he met and ministered to. Download the Angel app on Google Play or the App store and start watching today.