Luke 5:12-16 “How Jesus Chooses”
Since we started construction on the Baird Hall Lanai extension, I have noticed that the number of decisions I need to make on a daily basis have multiplied like nut grass in the lawn, like chickens on Kauai, like tourists on winter holiday. I get calls on my phone or if I am at the church I will be interrupted all the time about how things should look or whether to place special orders. “Do you want the cedar at 33 or 45 degree angles?” “Do you want the crown molding to wrap around the beam or be notched out?” “Do you want the special order backsplash or make one ourselves?” I think you all know what I am talking about if you have had remodeling done at your house or office.
Our lives are nothing but a series of decisions. The only decision that we do not have to make is whether or not we are to be born in the first place. Our children will always remind us of that by saying, “It was not MY decision to be born.” I always have responded with something like: “Yeah, that really was a bad decision on your mother’s and my part. Sorry. Can you forgive us your entire life?”
Today’s scripture brings up the question as to how we make decisions. A leper comes up to Jesus, and for reasons of Greek syntax that I do not need to go into here, they seem to know one another already. Perhaps this man and Jesus have crossed paths before. Yet, now the leper asks Jesus if he is willing in that moment to heal him of his disease.
Different Bibles translate this question from the leper in different ways. The pew Bible here in the church says: “If you choose to, you can make me clean.” Other Bibles might say “If you are willing” or “If you want.” The word here in the Greek (θελω) is still used today when you go into a restaurant to order something off of a menu. So, I am thinking as for my own understanding it might be best to translate this as “Jesus, if you would like to. . .?”
Why wouldn’t Jesus like to heal a leper? Of course he would. We would all like to heal those with Hansen’s disease or any other disease. This is clear. Even though Jesus specifically states that he came not necessarily to heal everybody but rather to proclaim the good news that the Kingdom of God has come, what else would God incarnate want to do?
Another super interesting textual note here in regards to what the leper is asking of Jesus comes in the word “can” in English. “If you are willing, you can cleanse me.” The word here in the Greek (δυναμις) refers specifically to having power. It is used in the Bible to denote dynamic spiritual power. One might think of Jesus exuding power from his very being. Remember in Mark 5:25 when the woman with a flow of blood comes up to Jesus and just touches the hem of his garment and the power flows out of him and she is instantly healed? This is very much the sense that we should apply to the question from the leper. He knows that Jesus has the power. If he were to just have a little bit of that healing grace, he would be cleansed of his disease. The leper knows this for sure. Maybe he can see the power flowing out of Jesus? The bible is not clear on this. Yet, the leper knows that Jesus has the power to heal his life.
Jesus responds simply: “I would like to heal you.” The decision is easy for Jesus. It is always the Will of God that we should be healed and made whole again. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, and say that we want the Will of God to be done on earth as it is in heaven, that is our sincere hope and understanding of the Will of God. Just as we are all to be healed in the Kingdom to come, we should be healed here on earth.
When we make decisions in our lives, even if it is just to get up in the morning or stay in bed, it should be based on this simple understanding that we are to do the Will of God in our lives.
I have frustrated a few people in my day by saying that I needed to check with the Lord on a decision. I will just say that I need to “pray for a day.” Often the response I get in prayer will be profoundly unexpected. This is like what we read in Proverbs 19:21, “The human mind may devise many plans, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be established.”
I cannot go any further without lifting up that moment in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus himself asks God in tearful prayer to “take this cup away from me. . . .” Luke 22:42, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” What father would want His only begotten Son to die in such a horrible manner? Yet, to establish God’s will over the earth this ultimate sacrifice is made. It is God’s will through the resurrection of Jesus that we should be made whole, cleansed of our sin, and welcomed to eternal life in the heavenly Kingdom.”
In this way we are all just like the leper. We ask for this will of God to heal us. Jesus if you are willing, heal us all.
Jesus touches the leper. Amazingly he touches the leper. Why did he do that? Does Jesus not know that if he touches the leper, he himself might get leprosy? Or, can it be that the leprosy in fact does come into Jesus? Jesus is already preparing himself for the ultimate sacrifice as he takes this man’s disease into himself. In those days, if you were to touch a leper, then you would be considered as unclean as the leper himself. Jesus is willing at least to take on that stigma.
Do you remember when Jesus goes to “Simon the leper’s house”? We can find that in Matthew 26:6 and on. Right when it is mentioned that the chief priests and Pharisees are plotting to kill Jesus that He goes to a leper’s house. Why? Nobody will come after Jesus there. Everyone is afraid of going to a leper’s house! Jesus is indeed very clever. He is safe in a leper’s house.
To be sure, our prayers of healing must also be like the prayers of Jesus, as we are willing to sacrifice. Yes, prayers of healing must be prayers of sacrifice. Have you ever thought about that?
In Mark 9:14-29 Jesus’ Disciples try to heal a boy. They fail. They take the boy to Jesus, and Jesus casts out the illness. The disciples then come to Jesus and ask why they could not cast out the illness by prayer. Jesus responds that they needed prayer AND fasting (read here “sacrifice.”) The first step of healing anyone is the willingness to take on their suffering in your own life. Like the mother who prays for her child with cancer, “Oh Lord, take my life instead of my child’s.”
In our text for today, Jesus tells the leper not to tell anyone of his healing. Why? It may be interesting to note, too, that some translations add “Yet, the man went out and blabbed about it.” You can find that for instance in the Eugene Peterson translation of the Gospel of Luke. I am astounded because such an inference of the man’s breaking trust with Jesus is in no ancient manuscript of the New Testament.
To be sure, the man did not have to say anything about his being healed. He was a leper who had just been made whole again! People knew he had been a leper. You cannot hide the progression of that disease for very long. Then, all of the sudden, people see him once more and all of his body parts are whole again. He really does not have to say anything!
Jesus does tell the man to go to the temple to offer the required sacrifices. You can read about these in Leviticus 14. Jesus tells him to go and offer his testimony—how God had healed him.
If you have been healed in your life, if you have experienced the power that may come to you when you cry out to God “choose me!”, then you should go and make a thanksgiving to God. You should thank God. 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “In all things be thankful to God; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Yes, it is God’s will for you to be healed, and it is God’s will that you should thank God afterwards. Besides, if you thank God, then you know your healing has indeed come from God and not from the “other side.”
The question is left for us now: How DO we make decisions in our lives? What does Jesus teach us about decision-making in this passage in which he literally chooses to heal someone from a disfiguring disease by touching him?
We should realize that all of our own decision-making skills are just that—human skill. Rather than just making decisions for ourselves, we need to go into prayer to ask God, “What is YOUR will in this thing?”
Our text for today states that after this healing Jesus went out to a deserted place once again. Was he just trying to get away from the crowds as some have suggested? Or, was Jesus going to thank God for allowing him to heal and make witness of the power of God over people’s lives. Jesus tells the former leper to go give thanks and prepare a sacrifice for what just happened, should we not also assume that Jesus himself would also thank God for the healing?
Ah hah! In order to make righteous decisions in our lives, we need to not just pray before a decision but also after the decision is made known through our prayers. We need to make a decision “sandwich.” God needs to be before and after, on top and on bottom, and all around a decision that we are to make. That is the way that Christ chose. We need to follow that example. Please choose to follow this example from Christ with prayer and thanksgiving.