daily biblical sermons

Christ is able and willing to cleanse of the leprosy of sin all that ask him with faith
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Friday, 12th Week of the Year, June 26, 2020
2 Kings 25:1-12, Psalm 136, Matthew 8:1-4

Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted




“When he [Jesus] 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 he 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 any one; but go, and show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to the people’” (Matthew 8:1-4).



Today’s gospel is about Jesus curing a leper. Leprosy was a dreadful disease for the Jews of Jesus’ day, for it not only disfigured and corrupted the body, but it also rendered one ritually impure and unable to associate with other people for fear of infecting them with the disease and rendering them ritually impure by contact. So lepers could not even take part in the ordinary way of worshiping God for fear of infecting and making other people ritually impure.



Today a leper approaches Jesus and prostrates himself (prosekynei, literally to prostrate oneself on the ground in worship) before him. This leper fully believes that Jesus has the power to cleanse him of his leprosy. However he is not fully convinced that Jesus wants to actually use his power to cleanse him. So the leper says, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean” (Matthew 8:2). Jesus, without the slightest hesitation or further dialogue with him, simply touches him and says, “‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed” (Matthew 8:3).



Then Jesus tells him to show himself to the priest and make the offering required by the law of Moses. In other words, Jesus not only cleanses him of his physical disease, but also re-integrates him into society, for this reintegration required a priest to examine the cleansed leper and declare that he was cleansed. Once this declaration was made, people would once again accept him to enter into relationship with them.



Jesus’ cure of this leper radically changed his whole life, for previously he had to dwell alone or with other lepers outside the town or city, for Leviticus says, “The leper who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean; he shall dwell alone in a habitation outside the camp” (Leviticus 13:45-46).



Probably the purpose of putting his hand over his upper lip when he cries out, “Unclean, unclean,” was to prevent his breath or drops of saliva that might come out of his mouth from striking other people and infecting them, as we today wear masks in public to protect others from being contaminated by COVID 19.



These cures that Jesus performed were meant as demonstrations of his power, but also of his willingness to cure all that requested it with faith.



They also provided evidence of the truth of what Jesus was claiming about himself. He could hardly expect people to believe that he was the Son of God and the Savior of the world and that people should put their faith in him, without some convincing proof that what he was claiming was true. A person can say anything he wants to, but for someone to say such extraordinary things as Jesus did, he must provide convincing proof of the truth of what he is saying. This is where his astonishing miracles come in. They show that he possesses divine power. These miracles helped Jesus’ disciples come to faith in him, for they were eyewitnesses of his healings, exorcisms, and especially of his resurrection. They did not actually see him rise, but they saw him after he had risen from the dead in his many appearances to them. All of these miraculous events plus his marvelous teaching convinced them that he indeed is the Son of God, the promised Messiah, and the Savior of the world. Our faith is based on their faith. It is based on the faith of eyewitnesses of his miracles and of his resurrection appearances.



But I think the most important meaning of this miraculous cleansing of the leper for us is that it shows Jesus’ power and willingness to cleanse people today of the leprosy of sin that defiles and disfigures our soul and fills us with guilt, misery, and depression, for it dims God’s life in us, and mortal sin extinguishes his life in us. We therefore need to be cleansed of our sins, and only God can do this, and he does so through his Son Jesus Christ. This cleansing of the leper should encourage us who suffer from the leprosy of sin, for it shows us Jesus’ ability to cleanse us from our sins, even from mortal sins, and thereby restore God’s life in us.



Not only does this cleansing of the leper show us his ability but also his willingness to cleanse us from the leprosy of sin, just as he most willingly touched this leper and pronounced him immediately cleansed. It was not a gradual process of being healed. It was instantaneous. “And he stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed” (Matthew 8:3). That’s how quickly Jesus will cleanse us of the leprosy of sin.



The most powerful way he does this is through the sacrament of reconciliation, which Jesus instituted when he said to his apostles after his resurrection, “Receive the Holy Spirit, if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:22-23). The results of his cleansing us of sin will also be instantaneous. Once the priest communicates to us God’s declaration that we ungodly sinners are righteous, we immediately become righteous, with God’s own righteousness reckoned to us (Romans 4:5).



This reading should teach us the importance of putting our faith in Christ and of asking him to cleanse us of the leprosy of sin. Worldly people, and even Christians who don’t really understand what the gospel is all about, may think that faith is insignificant, simply because they are ignorant of the transformative effect that it has on our lives.



“Faith in Christ appears a small and simple thing to the children of this world. They see in it nothing great or grand. But faith in Christ is most precious in God’s sight, and like most precious things, is rare. By it true Christians live. By it they stand. By it they overcome the world. Without this faith no one can be saved” (JC Ryle, 1856).



The greatness of faith is that it enables us to be justified not by our own merits and works, which we lack when we are filled with the leprosy of sin and need to be justified, but by the merits and work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Our faith in Christ makes all the difference in the world for our life, for justification comes by faith, not by our own good works (Romans 3:20, 28; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9). The work involved in justifying us is Christ’s work on the cross, where he suffered our death sentence for our sins for us, thus paying our debt that we have with God of suffering and death in punishment for our sins.



Our debt with God for our sins was paid for us, when we put our faith in Christ. Once we make this act of faith and genuinely repent of our sins, God simply acquits us of them and declares us ungodly sinners righteous, reckoning to us his own righteousness (Romans 4:5) so that we shine with the righteousness of God himself, which is beyond anything we could possibly merit by our own good works.



We should never tire of hearing this, for this is the very heart and essence of the gospel. This is the good news itself that has been brought into the world by Jesus Christ, who then sent his disciples into the whole world to preach this good news of God’s salvation now available to us by faith in his Son Jesus Christ, because of his redeeming, atoning, reparation-making death on the cross for our sins.



“Our souls are by nature entirely overspread with the leprosy of sin, and where can we apply for help but to the healing power and recovering grace of this Divine Savior? And be the malady ever so deep, spreading, or inveterate, we may surely adopt the words of this leper, and say, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And we have every reason to hope, if we so apply, that his compassion will be moved in our favor, and his power exerted for our cure” (Joseph Benson, 1749-1821).



This leper “was a very lively emblem of a poor vile sinner, full of sin and iniquity, who is brought to see himself all over covered with sin, when he comes to Christ for pardon and cleansing; and he is so considered by Christ the high priest, when he applies his justifying righteousness and sin purging blood to his conscience” (John Gill, 1697-1771).



This incident should help us believe that Jesus will exercise for us his power to forgive sins if only we humbly come to him and ask for it. Sinners “can believe in the ability of Christ to justify them by his righteousness, cleanse them by his blood; and save them by his grace to the uttermost: but they stick at, and hesitate about his willingness, by reason of their own vileness and unworthiness” (John Gill, emphasis added). This cleansing of the leper should remove any doubt about Christ’s willingness to exercise his power to cleanse us from the leprosy of our sins, when we ask him with faith.


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