Broken Yoke Ministries, Inc

Unclean, Unclean (Revisited)
Bob Van Domelen

March-April 2018
Note: This was the lead article for July 2003 but the notion of ‘leper’ has been on my mind lately, so I decided to repeat the article and add some recent thoughts.


A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”  Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.  “I am willing,” he said, “Be clean!”  Immediately he was cured of his leprosy.”  (Matthew 8.2-3)

     History tells us that lepers living during the time of Christ had to maintain a distance from healthy people and loudly announce their presence by calling out, “Unclean, unclean!”  I have wondered about this man who approached Jesus so boldly.  What brought him to such inner strength to take the risk he took?  His was, after all, a disease without a known cure. Leprosy was for him (and others so condemned) a life sentence—each day another day of experiencing a disease that literally wasted his flesh before his very eyes.

     The leper had said, “If you are willing” and Christ responded, “I am willing.”  In some ways, I wonder if the leper had the following conversation with himself before approaching Jesus.  “If Jesus is willing to heal me, then I get to be healed.  And if he isn’t willing, well, then life and death will be pretty much the same as I had imagined they’d be for me before I even heard of this man.  What have I got to lose?  Well, that’s settled then.  I’ll ask.”

     Centuries later, those with leprosy were sent to some remote island called Molokai where they would live and die isolated from healthy people.  Good people, like the famed Damien of Molokai, did what they could for those who suffered and many, like Damien, eventually contracted leprosy themselves, becoming like those they served.

     It would be years before medical science found ways to treat the condition, and those medical advances spelled the end of forced isolation.

     It is fair to say that sex offenders have become today’s lepers, although unlike early lepers there is little compassion for those who commit such crimes.  Men and women who offend are isolated from family and friends in prisons as part of societal retribution.  At the completion of their sentences many of these same individuals experience further separation as the result of divorce and/or court restrictions.  And a growing number sit in confinement after their sentences have been completed awaiting trials that will ultimately determine if they are to be civilly committed as sexual predators.

     I am not arguing the degree of damage that offenders brought on their victims, for my own offenses have generated currents of pain that continue to flow unchecked years after the crimes were committed.  Nor am I arguing the reality that some individuals are indeed predators with no desire to restrain their attractions, individuals who have every intention of continuing the very behaviors that brought them to prison in the first place.

     I am suggesting, however, that sex offenders are being diagnosed in the same manner as lepers in the time of Jesus.  I am suggesting that medical labels have been attached that clearly announce “No change is possible!”  And I am suggesting that because the public has mixed righteous anger with equal measures of self-righteous retribution and fear, that we are not far from serious consideration for colonies of isolation.  “At least in a place like that,” proponents will argue, “our children will not be at risk.”

“Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”  Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.  “I am willing,” he said, “Be clean!”

     I have received hundreds of letters from individuals who have prayed fervently for no more victims.  These are individuals both in prison and out of prison, but the common thread is a desire born of deep conviction—a desire to bring healing for themselves and their victims.

     I have received perhaps even more letters from individuals currently in confinement who are waiting their turn to get into whatever treatment program might be available. These are men and women who have accepted responsibility for what they have done and want as much help as they can get. 

      Because of the sheer number of offenders, treatment is normally not offered until the final stages of confinement.  Some live in states with few or no programs available and little likelihood that a program will open for them.  And quite honestly, many of them are afraid to return to society without the appropriate tools they need to avoid re-offending.

“Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”  Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.  “I am willing,” he said, “Be clean!”

     I have also read letters from people with an incredible faith in God.  They are the kind of men and women who read this newsletter and loudly proclaim, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”  And they believe God can and will.  These individuals acknowledge their need to surrender completely to the Lord; they share a desire for the healing of their victims; and they express a longing to grow in their spiritual lives with the support of others in a church environment.

As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near,’ heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons

(Matthew 10:8 - emphasis mine).

This is a message for all who seek the Lord in their daily lives, and this message contains that condition known as leprosy—a condition with no cure in the time of Jesus.  Was Jesus saying, “Go out and do what might seem to be the impossible”?  I think yes.

     By laying his hand on the leper, Jesus changed that man forever.  The Word tells us that the man was completely cured, and that word is both ominous and wonderful.  Ominous for it implies the complete absence of the condition.  And in the case of the leper, wonderful as the condition was indeed gone.

     Will the sex offender ever be cured in that same sense—a complete absence of desire and/or any temptation?  I am not going to write that God is incapable of bringing that about, but I am more inclined to feel that such will not be the case.  I’m also more inclined to say that sex offenders will do what all people who have sinned do—they will face their temptations from a position of being a new creature in the Lord, seeking God’s grace to meet and overcome the temptation.

     For those of us charged with sex offenses reading this, we have a responsibility of significant proportions.  We must be honest, accountable, and willing to learn healthy responses to daily living choices.  Our faith cannot be simply a statement such as “The Lord will change me” if that statement is not founded on a willingness to submit and be obedient to His will.  Our faith must be an active communion with God’s desire for us, a witness of that relationship to those who watch, and lifetime commitment to the process.  In short, faith demands a response.

     For those reading this article who have never been guilty of sex offenses, you have a responsibility to acknowledge God’s word in all things.  The lepers Jesus healed were considered untreatable and destined to suffer the consequences of the disease.  Jesus did not remind the leper of the current thinking on leprosy.  He answered, “I do will it.  Be clean.”

     We are in a time not unlike the early days of leprosy only we call the lepers child molesters.  One who has molested can never say, “There is no way I would ever re-offend,” but every molester deserves whatever support is needed to minimize that possibility.  Permanent confinement and loss of freedom is not the answer.

     I fervently pray each day for my victims, for other victims and their offenders, and for those who have not yet been identified as either but will eventually join these ranks.  My heart desires that some day the medical world will do for molesters what it has done for lepers, and I sincerely pray that this can be done without the extreme of colonies of confinement as the answer.

     The leper who came forward beseeching Jesus broke the rules.  He did not shout “Unclean, unclean!” nor did he keep an appropriate distance.  Instead, he asked, “If you are willing, Lord, you can make me clean.”  And Jesus responded, “I am willing, be made clean.”

     I have no problem with keeping an appropriate distance in my self-boundaries, but I want to be clean.  I want to be made whole.  God wants that, too. □


      In a recent sermon, my pastor told us that Jesus had compassion on the leper. Then he touched him. Finally, He spoke to the leper saying “I am willing. Be clean!” I suspect that most of us would have turned away from the leper because that was what the Law demanded.

      If we didn’t turn, maybe our next response would be to talk to the man, to listen to his responses, and given the way most of us are, we’d say something like “I’ll pray for you” or “I wish you well” before walking away. If we did feel some compassion, I doubt that it would have allowed us to touch the man because the risk of contamination would have been too great.

      My pastor also shared something I had not considered before. As word of the miracles Jesus did spread, he could not enter any town openly (Mark 1.45), so he stayed in the lonely places. The leper, on the other hand, was restricted to the lonely places outside the city as ordered by the chief priests. When Jesus healed him of his leprosy, he was able to enter the city, a cleaned man. The love and compassion of Jesus reconnected the man with family and friends.

      Fifteen years ago, I believed that in time communities would find a way to deal with those on state registries, finding a way to encourage healing choices and life-sustaining relationships. Instead, society endorses walls of separation and requires us to declare ourselves ‘unclean’ whenever the physical boundaries they impose break down.

      We have no way of knowing how the leper was received after Jesus healed him. All we know for sure was that Jesus had compassion on him, touched him, and spoke words of healing. It is rare, I think, for someone with a sex-related offense to find a homecoming celebration awaiting him or her after being released. Caution, hesitation, and maybe even suspicion are better words to describe that homecoming event.

      Though some in reentry have no faith, those who do realize that it was their faith that allowed them to approach Jesus in their hearts and ask “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” And it was that same faith that heard and believed Jesus saying “I am willing. Be clean!” If those words are all we have to rely on with certainty, then we have enough.