Skip to main content
Words of Life

A Scandalous Freedom

By John Eldredge January 22, 2012 Words of Life

Early on in the fanfare of his public appearances, Jesus gives what will become known as the famous Sermon on the Mount. This is a “big moment” for Jesus. He has laid out in detail his understanding of a life that pleases God; he has, so to speak, driven a stake in the ground. His star is ascending, crowds are growing, and the religious leaders are watching his every move. Watch what Jesus does next:

Large crowds followed Jesus as he came down the mountainside. Suddenly, a man with leprosy approached him and knelt before him. “Lord,” the man said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.” Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared. (Matthew 8:1-3 NLT)

It sounds like a very nice Bible story – until you understand what Jesus has done. First, this leprosy thing. Few of us have met a “leper.” The word has since become hijacked by the religious haze; we hardly have a reaction to it other than, “poor guy.” Substitute AIDS. Think of the public attitude, especially early in the AIDS crisis, when people were afraid to go to their dentist for fear of catching it somehow. Picture this man as someone in the late stages of AIDS – emaciated body, nearly bald, wheezing, face ravaged by ulcers.

Second, the Jewish attitude toward those infected. Lepers were required to cry out as they passed through a village, “Unclean! Unclean!” warning their neighbors lest unwitting citizens accidentally touch them – and become religiously defiled themselves. Leviticus 13:45-46 made it clear that “the person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face, and cry out ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp.” Clothed in rags, bandanna over the face, hair dirty and matted. Talk about ostracism. In Israel at that time, to get within a stone’s throw of someone so diseased was to jeopardize your own righteousness and reputation.

So, that is the danger Jesus is faced with. The man comes near Jesus – but not too near. What does Jesus do?

He reaches out and touches him.

The beauty of this is beyond words.

Jesus doesn’t need to come in contact with the man in order to heal him. There are many accounts were all he does is say the word and people are healed, even people a county away. Yet he touches him. Why?! Mark’s version of the story says that Jesus was “moved with compassion” (1:41 NASB). He who can be so immovable as actually moved rather easily, moved for all the right reasons. Because this is the one thing the man needs. No one has touched him for a very long time. To be starved for human touch is far worse than to starve for bread. The kindness of Jesus in this one act is enough to make me fall in love with him.

But so is his scandalous freedom.

Because now, Jesus is defiled. At least, in the eyes of all the proper authorities he is.

Jesus is just getting his ministry going. He has a message he needs to get across, for by his own admission, “That is why I have come” (Mark 1:38). Credibility is fairly important at this point – especially given the fact that in this recent tour de force of a sermon, he has begun to challenge cherished notions of the pontifical tyrants. But here, in his very next move, Jesus is almost guaranteeing he will be disqualified. Emotionally, politically, this would be the social equivalent of a rising priest or pastor giving their most important message of the year, then stepping outside onto the front porch of the church, lighting a cigarette, and taking a good long shot of tequila straight from the bottle as the congregation files past. Metaphorically speaking.

Jesus doesn’t seem to care.

Or better, he cares very deeply about the right things.

He knows exactly what he’s doing. In the Sermon on the Mount he completely overhauled their understanding of goodness. In a sort of moral Copernican revolution, he moves the concept of righteousness from the external to the internal. It is a far, far more demanding holiness, but one that will overturn legalism like a fruit cart. And then, almost as if to say, “Let me show you what I mean,” we have this story.

The risks Jesus is willing to take with his reputation are simply stunning.


This is an excerpt from BEAUTIFUL OUTLAW by John Eldredge. Copyright © 2011 by John Eldredge. Reprinted by permission of FaithWords. All rights reserved. Hear more as John joins James and Betty this Monday and Tuesday on LIFE TODAY.

Life Updates

Sign up to stay in touch with LIFE Outreach International