You open your Bible, looking for answers. Flipping through the pages, the name “Simon the Leper” jumps out at you in several places. Who was this man? Why is he called a leper? And what can we learn from his interactions with Jesus?
In this post, we’ll explore the biblical accounts related to Simon the Leper and see what they reveal about his identity, his illness, and his faith.
The Gospels mention Simon the Leper by name only twice, and provide few biographical details about him. The first reference appears in Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9, which record Jesus being anointed by an unnamed woman while dining at Simon’s home in Bethany:
Jesus was in Bethany reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper. A woman came with an alabaster jar of expensive perfume made from pure nard. She broke open the jar and poured the perfume on Jesus’ head. (Mark 14:3-4)
The second mention of Simon is in John 12:1-8, which describes the same event but names the woman as Mary and notes that she anointed Jesus’ feet rather than his head:
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. (John 12:1-3)
Based on the Gospel accounts, we can surmise a few details about Simon:
- He lived in Bethany, a village on the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem
- He owned a home large enough to host dinners with guests
- He associated with Jesus, Lazarus, Mary, and Martha as apparent friends
- He had contracted leprosy at some point, as indicated by his epithet “the Leper”
But beyond this, the Gospels do not provide any further biographical information about Simon’s family, occupation, or background. We are left to speculate about his life based on what we know about leprosy and social customs in first-century Judea.
Why is Simon called “the Leper”? Clearly, he had contracted the skin disease known as leprosy or Hansen’s disease. This meant he would have suffered from one of the following conditions:
- Tuberculoid leprosy – This causes numb, pale patches on the skin that lack sensation to temperature and pain. It can cause nerve damage, muscle weakness, and paralysis.
- Lepromatous leprosy – Widespread nodules, bumps, and thickened skin appear across the body. Left untreated, it can affect the eyes, nasal passages, and cause disfiguring facial changes.
- Borderline types – A mix of numb patches and widespread thickened skin. It is unstable and can become progressively worse over time.
In the ancient world, a diagnosis of leprosy had social and religious implications beyond just the physical symptoms. According to Mosaic Law, lepers were considered ceremonially unclean (Leviticus 13-14). They were isolated from community and religious life, forced to live outside of town, call out “Unclean!” as a warning, and rend their garments as visible signs of mourning their separation from society.
But when reviewing Simon’s case, a few questions arise:
- Was he still infectious? The Gospels give no indication Simon was actively contagious at the time of his dinner. His home may have been located outside of Bethany proper as a precaution.
- Why was he hosting a dinner party? Social events were forbidden for infectious lepers. However, Simon may have been hosting the meal after being cured of advanced disease.
- Why did he still bear the “leper” label? Once cured of leprosy, a purified Israelite could rejoin society after offering sacrifices (Leviticus 14:1-32). But the stigma of leprosy was hard to shake. Simon may have continued to be known by this epithet.
- Was he completely healed? While cured of infections, Simon may have still borne some scars or neuropathy from prolonged leprosy. But he had recovered enough to own a home and gather with friends.
So in summary, Simon likely contracted leprosy earlier in life, resulting in isolation from society. At some point, he was cured of infections and able to return to Bethany – but the locals still knew him as “the Leper.” While bearing scars of the past, his healing had enabled him to pursue a new normal among friends.
Beyond his identity and illness, the Gospels also give us a glimpse into Simon’s faith in Jesus Christ. Consider what we can learn from Simon’s actions:
He risked welcoming Jesus into his home
As a known leper, Simon’s home was likely located outside of Bethany since lepers were forbidden from interacting with society. Yet he invited Jesus – surrounded by crowds – to come inside and dine. This took courage and demonstrated his confidence that the “healer from Galilee” posed no risk of contagion.
He associated with Jesus’ followers
The dinner guests included Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha – devoted friends of Jesus. Despite his stigma as a leper, Simon was comfortable fellowshipping with Jesus’ inner circle. This indicates he too was drawn to Christ in faith.
He hosted Jesus shortly before Passover
The Gospels specifically note this dinner occurred six days before Passover. As devout Jews, Simon and his guests would have been mindful of the impending pilgrimage feast and sacrifices for sin in Jerusalem. By hosting Jesus, they created space for spiritual experiences in anticipation of Passover.
He received Jesus hospitably
Rather than taking offense when an uninvited woman anointed their guest of honor, Simon allowed her act of worship to unfold. As the host, he showed deference to Jesus by permitting the outpouring of perfume and hair-washing with no regard for appearances.
He associated with a formerly dead man
Lazarus was presumably an outcast after being restored to life by Jesus (John 11). Yet Simon welcomed him as a dinner guest, undeterred by what others might think about consorting with the “walking dead”.
So in many respects, Simon’s actions reveal a man ready to brave stigma and rejection to experience Jesus’ presence. Despite his past with leprosy, he opened his home – and heart – with hospitality. Simon sheds light on what it means to live with tenacious, scandalous faith.
Lessons from Simon the Leper
As modern readers, we may find it hard to relate to Simon’s ancient experiences as an outcast leper. Yet within this curious biblical character, we see glimpses of the Jesus’ power to heal, restore, and welcome the marginalized. Let’s reflect on a few lessons we can learn from Simon:
Our limitations do not limit God’s grace
Simon’s leprosy likely felt like a life sentence. But Jesus met him right where he was – outside the community, bound by stigma and scars. Likewise, we all bear wounds that make us feel excluded. But Jesus’ compassion reaches even the most unlikely people in unlikely places.
Jesus dignifies the excluded
By accepting Simon’s hospitality, Jesus conferred dignity on this “leper” who was viewed as unclean and cursed. When we offer our imperfect lives to Christ, He dignifies our efforts with His holy presence. There is no one too far gone for God’s grace.
Past pain can develop compassion
Simon’s suffering from leprosy may have opened his heart to those who likewise felt rejected. Having received mercy, he extended mercy to other outsiders. Our most painful trials can uniquely equip us to bind up the brokenhearted.
Radical obedience requires sacrifice
Simon took huge risks by welcoming Jesus into his home right before Passover. His courage came from a willingness to sacrifice comfort for obedience. Following Jesus often means making uncomfortable choices that put His priorities above our own.
Faith sees beyond stigma
Despite whispers about his past, Simon saw Jesus for who He was – the Messiah. He refused to let stereotypes cloud his view of Christ’s glory. If we look at one another through eyes of faith, we too can see beyond scandal and stigma to the sacred worth God bestows.
The Gospels reveal that Simon the Leper was so much more than his disease. He displayed tenacious faith and sacrificial obedience that should inspire us. No matter what labels society may have put upon us, we are not defined by our limitations. Let Simon’s story urge us onward to live with scandalous, unrelenting hope in Christ.
Key Takeaways on Simon the Leper
- Simon lived in Bethany and was known as “the Leper” due to contracting leprosy earlier in life
- He appears to have been cured of infectious leprosy, but still bore the stigma of this label
- He demonstrated courage and faith by welcoming Jesus into his home shortly before Passover
- Simon’s story shows how Jesus dignifies and restores even societal outcasts
- We can imitate Simon’s tenacious faith and hospitality despite our own wounds and limitations
- Our past pain can develop compassion and mercy for others who feel excluded
- Like Simon, we are called to see beyond stigma to recognize the sacred worth Jesus bestows on all people
By welcoming Jesus into his home, Simon the Leper displayed remarkable faith that transcended societal barriers. Despite lingering limitations from his past illness, he showed sacrificial obedience in the face of stigma. Simon reminds us that with courageous hope in Christ, we too can live beyond the unjust labels that have marked our lives.