Posted on Sun, Feb 12, 2012
February 12, 2012
6th Sunday after Epiphany
Gospel Text: Mark 1:40–45 “Healed Witness”
Jesus Cleanses a Leper
40 A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ 41 Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ 42 Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, 44 saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’ 45 But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.
Jesus was doing his preaching in and around the towns, among the people. The only times it seems he went off to a quiet place away from people, was to pray.
We don’t know where Jesus is at the moment of today’s gospel text, but we do know that the man with the disease called Leprosy, now called ‘Hansen’s Disease,’ was not where he was ‘supposed’ to be, according to the traditions of the day. There was a dreadful fear of this disease and the fear had been around for generations. When a person was afflicted with the disease, there was shame and a quick removal of the individual from their home community to an outside community of other victims of the disease. The family left behind not only lost the fellowship of their loved one forever, but the neighbors would begin asking, “Who in their family sinned against God to bring on such a terrible disease?” Later in His ministry, Jesus will deal with this kind of thinking.
But this leper has left the community of the exiled lepers because he truly believes Jesus can heal him. He says to Jesus, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Put yourself in Jesus’ sandals and having this experience. The people only refer to him as ‘teacher’ or sometimes ‘rabbi,’ but up to now the only “persons” who have really known and understood his power to heal physically and spiritually have been ‘demons.’
Here is a leper, one that even Jesus, as rabbi, who according to the traditions is not allowed to touch or associate with, unless he is to judge him as unclean and should be banished to the place of the lepers. That was the basic role the priests and rabbi’s had to do with lepers… In Leviticus 12:1-15:33 there are complete instructions for the priests on how to identify and deal with leprosy.
But in Jesus’ day, the lepers were forced to live apart from so called; “healthy” society and they were easily identified by their clothing and appearance. If there was anyone around, and there is a very good chance this all happened in public, the people would have been aghast at seeing this person OUTSIDE of the “village of the lepers” and walking amongst so called ‘healthy’ people.
They would have probably run off to a safe distance, but not too far away because they wanted to hear what Jesus would say, and see what Jesus would do. Everybody knew this man, and they had also heard that Jesus could heal!
Jesus is “moved with pity,” He then stretched out his hand and touched him.
Synonyms for “pity” are: compassion - mercy - sympathy – remorse. The meaning goes to the point of sympathizing to the point where you feel the same pain as the other person.
How many people watching the leper ever felt compassion to the point of sharing the lepers’ pain, fear, even remorse or shame? About the only thing the leper experienced or received from the public was fear, disgust, and a desire to not ever, ever, associate with them again BECAUSE they were afraid they too could be infected.
Jesus was not afraid and made this public statement, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Rather than running away for fear of becoming ‘ritually’ unclean or in infected with the disease, Jesus chooses to go against the ‘normal’ wisdom and touches the man. He is healed!
Of course he is healed, and because in Leviticus there are passages about what to do when someone is cleansed, Jesus sends him off to the same priest that probably diagnosed his illness and condemned him to a live apart of his community.
Leviticus chapter 14 it is all about the cleansing of lepers, but I wonder if the people ever really believed it was possible to ‘cleanse’ lepers and welcome them back into the community. Fear had probably made them afraid of what God promised!
I can just imagine what the priest thought when the leper came to his door all healed and ready to be welcomed back into the community! I am positive he had to really search his scrolls in Leviticus to find out the proper rituals to welcome this man back in, and I would bet he did it with a great deal of fear and trepidation!
I hope the priest was a young priest with little confidence and full of questions. I am sure this experience would have totally shattered his understanding about what he was taught to do and expect.
“What do you mean you have been healed? I saw you covered with leprous sours and banished you to the leper village! By the way, WHO DID THIS TO YOU!?” Meaning, “who cured you?!” Meaning, even though ‘cleansing of lepers’ is written in the book of Leviticus, NOBODY REALLY BELIEVES IT AND NOBODY HAS EVER TRIED IT!
And then the leper would gladly and innocently tell the priest he was healed by the new rabbi from Nazareth, named ‘Jesus.’
Why did Jesus say, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
I think there are several reasons, one dealing with scripture, and one regarding human reaction and behavior. Jesus didn’t come to abolish the scripture but to fulfill it, and he wanted the man to see that the scripture is fulfilled in his encounter with Jesus! Jesus choosing to heal and reaching out to this afflicted man fulfilled the scripture, that God chooses to come into our world to show us that mercy, grace and faith are greater than any of our fears!
Having pity, having compassion, having mercy, FULFILLS scripture, not running in fear and finding reason after reason why you shouldn't become involved!
Think of the parable of the Good Samaritan being passed up by all those “holy dudes” who came up with all kinds of reasons why NOT to get involved.
Jesus chooses to get involved and to touch the man that everyone else was afraid of, and therefore fulfills the call to have mercy and do/show God’s justice to the world.
The church fulfills scripture when we find reasons to get involved with those who are afflicted with illness, sudden tragedies, all kinds of emergencies and conflicts. The church is called to worship and give thanks in our sanctuaries but have our ‘service’ done outside these walls among the people of this world. We are first and foremost called to believe and follow in the discipline of Jesus and make God’s mercy and then do love mercy and do justice in this hurting world.
The second reason is because Jesus knows the human heart and difficult path this man has been forced to walk. Jesus knows he won’t be able to keep this gift of being cleansed to himself! If it would have been me, I would have run home to hug my kids and kiss my wife before ever thinking about going to see the priest because of something Moses wrote in that old book of the law!
Then, given the choice of going to that priest that judged me and exiled me to that terrible place or having a meal with my best friends and family? Let's see… this won’t take long! “Let’s have a BBQ! I have a story to tell you all, and it is all about the time I met Jesus and he touched me!”
When you came in here, there were burdens on your heart. You confessed your sins and I proclaimed to you through the authority of the Gospel that through the death and resurrection of Christ, you are forgiven, made new, healed of your brokenness with God and RE-Created to be a Child of God, a light to the nations loving mercy and doing justice! Are you going to be quiet about this? I hope not.
You are forgiven! Time to sing, and dance if you have to!
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