When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. 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 cleansed of his leprosy. Matthew 8:1-3 NIV.
Cartoon aside, here's what Richard Beck in unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality says about what the true Jesus did:
What is intriguing about this story is the sequence. Jesus touches the leper first. Then the command “Be clean!” is offered. That is, Jesus’ first move is into ritual defilement. By first touching the leper, Jesus intentionally and willfully seeks contamination, standing in solidarity with the unclean. This is striking because the expected sequence would be initial purification followed by contact. Jesus, surprisingly for the onlookers, does the opposite. Contact occurs first. Purification follows solidarity. And one can only wonder how various Christian communities approach this sequence in their own missional endeavors.Beck then goes on to discuss how the writer of Mark gives us several examples of how Jesus overturns the traditions of his day: when Jesus heals an “unclean” man in the synagogue, and then when he heals a leper after touching him first. Beck then comments,
Beck, p. 76
… in this healing Jesus reverses the directionality and power of pollution (the attribution of negativity dominance). Rather than the unclean polluting the clean, we see, in Jesus’ touch, the clean making the polluted clean. Here, in Jesus, we see a reversal, a positive contamination. Contact cleanses rather than pollutes….Contrast Jesus' actions with what you see in church. Are "unclean" persons welcomed? How are those who are different treated? Are we willing to love and accept others where they are at?
Soon after these events, in a parallel to Matthew 9, Jesus is found admitting “unclean” persons—tax collectors and sinners—to the sociomoral space of table-fellowship.
Beck, p. 81