Matthew 8:1-3, “After Yeshua had come down from the hill, large crowds followed him. Then a man afflicted with leprosy came, kneeled down in front of him and said, ‘Sir, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’ Yeshua reached out his hand, touched him and said, ‘I am willing! Be cleansed!’”
Imagine standing on a hill on a windy day with a fluffy feather pillow in your hands. As the wind continues to blow, you open the pillow, and empty its feathery contents into the wind. As you stand and watch, imagine attempting to retrieve each of those feathers. As you focus to pick up just one or two, the wind continues to blow feathers a greater and wider distance from you. It would seem a hopeless task. When speaking of gossip, and the effects of gossip in rabbinic literature, it is often compared to emptying a feather pillow into the wind. While it seemed only a small thing, it very quickly grew beyond control or repair.
After Messiah Yeshua/Jesus speaks the Sermon on the Mount, he is approached by a man afflicted by leprosy (Matt. 8:1-4). According to Jewish law a leper was not to touch, speak, or otherwise interact with a ritually clean individual. On this occasion, as we note in several instances in the Gospels, a leper approached Yeshua to be healed. Why was this man so moved that he risked social scorn, ridicule, or even threats of violence to ask Messiah to heal him? And why did Yeshua touch this man, rather than simply speak healing to him?
The rabbinic sages have concluded that leprosy, detailed in Leviticus 13 and 14, was the result of the sin of gossip or slander. The Torah directs the people of God to “love your neighbor as yourselves” (Lev. 19:18), and to treat others, including an enemy, favorably (Ex. 23:4). Gossip, while seeming to be a small matter, destroys lives. Even after forgiveness is sought and received, the reputation of the individual affected many never be completely recovered. The gossip, should he remain unrepentant, is physically afflicted. As he was not careful to guard his words, he would sit, reflect and seek healing from the Lord. His words to the general public are limited to two, “Unclean! Unclean!” (Lev. 13:45). By such a declaration, people would know his sin. His sin of speech. He will now live alone; separated from society, outside the camp (Lev. 13:46).
The apostle James writes, “Anyone who thinks he is religiously observant but does not control his tongue is deceiving himself, and his observance counts for nothing” (James 1:26). Sobering words for sure. Additionally, Messiah Yeshua said, “The good person produces good things from the store of good in his heart, while the evil person produces evil things from the store of his heart. For his mouth speaks what overflows from his heart” (Lk. 6:45).
Gossip, then, should not be a quality, or gifting named among disciples of Messiah. Gossip is not just the repeating of something that is not true, it also shares truth to which the hearer is not entitled. Leviticus 19:16 warns, “You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord” (cf. Deut. 27:24). Go “about as a talebearer” translates more precisely, “go up and down as a pedlar,” meaning to go about gathering and disseminating gossip about others. The second clause of Leviticus 19:16 concerns the life of an individual, but coupled with the pedlar of gossip, the Lord is revealing that such activity is destroying the neighbor with the tongue, the results of which the victim may never recover. Life and death are in the power of the tongue, and in this instance, the tongue choose death (Pro. 18:21; cf. Ps. 34:13-14).
Gossip damages covenant community, and causes bitter division between brethren. Messiah provides avenues of reconciliation for those damaged by gossip, or other sinful actions. In Matthew 5:23-24 (cf. Matt. 18:15-17) Yeshua speaks of an issue of unresolved, and unidentified tension. In this text, set against the backdrop of worship before the Altar in the Holy Temple, Yeshua places greater emphasis on reconciliation than sacrifice in this instance. The sacrifice people would bring to the Altar was costly, and it represented an act of obedience and deep devotion to the covenant Lord. However, Yeshua says, first go “make peace,” then “offer your gift” to the Lord.
Gossip poisons language. It takes that which can bring together, and tears apart. It is deadlier than a weapon, as the damage caused can never be fully repaired, or washed away. While the Lord created with language, gossip destroys creation. We must never, therefore, take language lightly. To do so will shreds the social fabric of the human community.
Why the touch?
In the Sermon on the Mount, Messiah speaks of the effects of faith on the life of those following Him – the inner transformation in faith effecting the wider community by action. The leper, by speaking to Messiah, was confessing his condition with faith that Yeshua could make him well, “if you are willing,” not “if you can.” Messiah responds, “I am willing,” touching him, and healing him. As followers of Messiah we are called to humble servanthood. We are called to give people good news, not scandalize or ruin them.
Messiah touched this leper to remind all of us that no matter how defiled we, or another, may be, His touch cleanses and restores.
Shalom. Be well.