When he came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. 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 cured of his leprosy. (verses 1-3)
What a simple and poignant encounter. Yet the simplicity yields powerful insight. The setting itself is instructive. Jesus has been teaching the multitudes who have hung on his words, amazed by their authority, so different from the words of any teacher they had ever known. As a result, the crowds clung to him as he came down from that mountainside, location of his famous sermon.
In the midst of that bustling, jostling crowd, one man steps into the centre, right into Jesus’ line of sights, and kneels before him. So many insights here. As these short verses unfold, it is clear that Jesus gives undivided attention to this one man. Remarkable. The crowds surround, many press in, people whose hearts have been warmed, whose lives have been touched, who are drawn to Jesus – people who are vitally important to the Master, who loves them with enough passion to lay down his life. And yet, Jesus is not overwhelmed by the weight of the masses, nor by the significance of their interest. He still has time and focus for one. In a world of crushing need, we deal with a Saviour whose eye is focused on individuals. On me.
What’s more, this man shouldn’t have been there in the first place. He’s a leper. He was supposed to keep his distance, crying out, “Unclean! Unclean!”, pushing everyone else away. But he presses in. And Jesus, far from repelled, gives attention. There is hope, too, for me.
The man’s act of kneeling is reported to us by Matthew with the one word that is most commonly used in the New Testament for worship – proskuneo, literally meaning to come towards to kiss. When our need is so great that we have nowhere to go but to fall before Jesus, this act of desperate petition is itself a true act of worship. Jesus is the One, the only one, who can meet the need – I cry out to him, and it is worship.
There is such plaintive tenderness in the man’s petition: “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” There is such welcoming tenderness in Jesus’ response: “I am willing.” But, of course. This is the One whose very purpose in coming was to seek and save the lost. This is the One who bears our burdens and carries our sorrows. Why do I ever allow the stretch of time or the weight of my need to cause me to doubt that he sees me, even me, and desires my healing and wholeness and best good?
Finally, Jesus speaks the word. “Be clean!” Immediately, the man is healed. Once again, this presses me up against the mystery of prayer. As I, too, worship through heartfelt petition, my immersion in time may keep me from seeing the immediacy of my Lord’s response. But I lean into this simple story, trusting his goodness, knowing that my own need and uncleanness don’t disqualify me, nor does the needy crush of the surrounding world. He sees me and loves me and attends to me, speaking the word of his will into motion, even when I don’t yet see it.
So, Lord, I worship in faith as I wait, kneeling at your feet.
Reflect: Take a moment right now to press into Jesus’ hands the request that weighs on your heart. Know that his attention is focused on you. He hears your heart. Put the request securely in his hands, trusting.