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Touch the Leper

Touch the Leper

I received a request a few weeks ago to write a blog article about the topic mentioned in the headline. Of course, the story told in Mark 1:40–44 and Luke 5:12–14 is the source of the inquiry.

This fact pattern is straightforward. A leper approaches Jesus and requests that He cleanse him—apparently in a town where the leper wasn’t supposed to be. Jesus acknowledges, touches, and purifies the man. Was it wrong of Jesus to do that?

In this case, we already sort of know the solution. Since Jesus was sinless according to Hebrews 4:15, it is apparent that He did not sin throughout his contacts with the leper. Alright, but why not?

Even though I’m scarcely an authority on the purity laws of the Old Testament, three points of contention emerge. First, it doesn’t seem that the Law expressly forbids purposefully contacting a leper. According to Leviticus 5:3, unintentionally touching a leper (or any other human uncleanness) is.

Extensive regulations are given in Numbers 19:11–22 for individuals who purposefully touch a body, but there are no comparable laws for purposefully touching a leper.

This could be the case because, in accordance with Leviticus 13:45–46, a leper who isolates himself will not be touched by anyone. Who would go after a leper just to get close to him? Therefore, Jesus would not have sinned by choosing to touch Him, but the leper in Luke 5 would have sinned by entering the city.

Secondly, it’s possible that by touching the leper, Jesus is demonstrating His authority as a priest.

Before the leper is ceremonially certified clean (having already been declared free from infection in Leviticus 14:9), the priest touches him several times during the cleansing process described in Leviticus 14:10–20.

Priests could obviously touch lepers. Jesus was a priest in the order of Melchizedek, even though He was not a priest under the Law; His willingness to touch the leper may be an indication of this.

Lastly, and maybe most intriguingly, Jesus might be expressing His unique status. Haggai 2:10–12 states that the general norm regarding holiness was that it could not be spoken.

Something touched by something holy did not turn holy in and of itself. The tabernacle and its contents (Exodus 30:26–29), the grain offering (Leviticus 7:18), and the sin offering (Leviticus 7:27) are the three instances in the Law where this is not the case. Every one of those did convey sanctity to whatever touched them.

On the surface, the narrative of Jesus’s encounter with the leper is about the exchange of holiness.

When Jesus touches the leper, the Scripture clearly states that the leper became clean, not that Jesus became unclean as a result of the touch (at least, no such proof exists). This suggests that at least one of the three previously mentioned exclusions exists, as defined by the Law.

All three of the exclusions apply to Jesus, in fact. According to John 1:18, His body served as the Word’s tabernacle among us. He is the true meal of the faithful, the bread of life (John 6:47–51).

In the end, He is the supreme atonement for sin (Hebrews 10:10–12). Therefore, even leprosy could not continue to be filthy prior to the triple holiness that He has.

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