Of all the miracles in Jesus ministry, the healing of the leper in Matthew 8 has got to be one of the most profound.
It is rich in compassion, powerfully showing us something of Jesus heart. One statement pretty much sums this up when it says ‘Jesus reached out his hand and touched him‘ (Matthew 8:3). This is a story where the glory of divinity meets the grittiness of humanity. On the receiving end is a broken leper, someone who has been abandoned by society and reduced to living with the scourge of a disease that has made him disfigured. Yet in one moment, Jesus honoured him by showing authentic love, touching the untouchable and embracing a person the world had left behind. Jesus empathic act restored dignity to a man who was going through his own deep sorrow in life. It’s as if the healing which followed was a by-product of the encounter. The real miracle was the experience of caring compassion in a crass and cruel world.
For me, this story shows us what real compassion is all about. It is authentic and free of pretence. Lets face it, our world is full of nauseatingly cheap calls to ‘love not hate’. For example, everybody loves the idea of caring for the planet – yet nobody seems willing to give up their carbon emitting holiday flight to Spain. Politicians love to preach about tolerance and respect – yet they ‘debate’ each other using the most hate-filled and intolerant language. We complain about a society that is unconcerned about the vulnerable – yet most of us probably don’t even know our neighbours name. The list of ironies could go on. Saying it is one thing. Doing it is another.
The theory of compassion is pleasant to the mind. However the notion that because we think about compassion means we somehow occupy a higher moral ground is delusional. The practicality of real love is very different. It means loving the unlovable, not just the lovable. It means genuinely caring. It means reaching out. It means seeking to understand what life feels like for someone else. It means being self aware instead of being self obsessed. It means avoiding patronising grandstanding and instead serving quietly behind the scenes, getting our hands dirty and being there for others.
Whilst compassion doesn’t have all the answers, it’s often the only answer we can give. Jesus interaction with the leper in Matthew 8 is a beautiful portrayal of the extra-ordinary in the midst of the ordinary. Compassion is truly extra-ordinary. This is what God calls us to.