Summary: The healing ministry of Jesus reaches out and spreads to all kinds of people--including outcasts like lepers.
Sermon for 6 Epiphany Yr B, 16/02/2003
Based on Mk 1:40-45
Grace Lutheran Church, Medicine Hat, Alberta
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
“Honey, the post office called,” Jim’s wife told him when he arrived home from work. “They want you to go down and talk to them.” “Okay,” Jim answered. “Wonder what that’s all about?”
“Mr. Barbre, thank you for coming right in,” the postmaster said. “It’s about this envelope. A lot is expected of the post office, but this is the most amazing delivery we’ve ever been asked to make.” There before him was a large envelope from his five-year-old son. It was addressed to God from Ben and inside was a very flat, dead goldfish.
Then Jim remembered. When his son’s goldfish died, the day before, he’d told the young boy that they’d send the goldfish back to God. He expected they would give the fish a burial in the flower garden, but Ben had a better idea. 1
In a similar way, today’s gospel tells us about a leper who goes directly to God, in the person of Jesus, to seek and find healing. Leprosy in biblical times refers to several different kinds of skin diseases and conditions. Yet, if one was labelled a leper; one was considered unclean; therefore, not welcome in public places. Lepers were religious, social, political and economic outcasts. To be labelled a leper meant for most people, a life on the fringes, a life of poverty and suffering. This, of course, meant that association with even their closest family members, friends and neighbours was cut off. Most of us who have been on the receiving end of being ostracized know and experience how hurtful and painful that can be. The ostracized are often made to feel inferior and less than human.
This leper most likely had known and experienced this kind of treatment. So he comes to Jesus with his request for healing, placing all of his faith and hope in him—although probably knowing that Jesus as someone who was clean had no obligation by Jewish law to have anything to do with him. How many times the leper had requested healing before by others we don’t know. Perhaps the leper was feeling utter despair by the time he had met Jesus; perhaps he was entertaining serious doubts that he would ever be healed. Then this Jesus comes along. Maybe others had told him that Jesus healed them. At any rate, when Jesus is within earshot, the leper makes the following request: “If you choose, you can make me clean.”
Then, Mark tells us: “Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” According to Mark, the leper was healed right away: “Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.”
Jesus is always stretching us, is he not? As soon as his contemporaries or we ourselves become smug and believe we can fit Jesus into our neat and tidy little boxes; he reminds them and us that he is so much more. Here he goes beyond the boundary of the law by speaking in public with, by touching and healing an outcast, an unclean leper. What about us? As Christ’s followers, how do we treat the outcasts and pariahs of our society? Do we keep our distance, condemn them to hellfire and brimstone forever; or do we have compassion upon them and offer them the healing grace of Jesus Christ? At times we too are challenged to follow Jesus beyond the boundary separating the clean from the unclean—since his healing power and grace is freely offered not only to us, but to everyone.
As this encounter between Jesus and this leper continues, we learn of a beautiful and profound irony—namely, that this unclean leper, in spite of Jesus’ “stern warning” to button his lips and keep his healing a secret, goes out and becomes an evangelist, a witness, and messenger of the Good News! It seems that absolutely nothing or no one could prevent the healed leper from preaching the Good News: “But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word.” There is an enthusiasm, a vim and vigour here within this leper that his healing TRULY IS GOOD NEWS WORTH SHARING WITH EVERYONE HE MEETS. HE CANNOT HELP HIMSELF, HE CANNOT HOLD BACK, SO HE RESPONDS WITH JOY AT HIS NEW FOUND FREEDOM BY SHARING THE MESSAGE OF JESUS AND HIS LOVE.
At our pastor’s study conference this year, one of our keynote speakers was Pastor Etienne Fomgbami, from the Lutheran church in Cameroon. He said that as he travels and meets people in our congregations across Canada, one thing he has noticed is that we lack enthusiasm about the Good News. He said in his country the Good News REALLY IS GOOD NEWS, AND THOSE WHO HEAR IT RESPOND ENTHUSIASICALLY BY SHARING IT WITH THEIR FAMILY MEMBERS, THEIR FRIENDS, NEIGHBOURS AND STRANGERS. He encouraged us Canadians to do likewise with enthusiasm.