Summary: A sermon for the 6th Sunday after Epiphany, Series B. Jesus’ anger is a result of his compassion to reveal the grace of God.
6th Sunday after Pentecost, February 15, 2009 “Series B”
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, we give you thanks for your gift of grace, revealed to us through the life, death and resurrection of your Son, Jesus the Christ. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, open our hearts and minds to receive your Word for our lives, that strengthened in faith, we might prove to be worthy disciples in our witness to your grace. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
Our Gospel lesson for this morning provides us with a unique picture of the grace of God revealed to us through Jesus the Christ. Mark tells us that “a leper came to Jesus begging him, and kneeling before Jesus, said to him ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’”
Here, right from the start of this story, we are given an indication that this is a rare and unusual event. For in those days, there were very strict rules that person determined to have a skin disease such as leprosy, were required to follow. They were not permitted to be in the towns or cities, or to have any contact with “healthy” persons while traveling outside the city walls. In fact, lepers were required to shout out to those who came anywhere near them, that they were “unclean”.
But Mark tells us that this person with leprosy totally ignored the rules, and dared to approach Jesus, even kneel before him, begging Jesus to make him clean. Apparently this person had heard of the multitude of people that Jesus had healed in Capernaum. And given the situation of being isolated from society – even his own family – he felt that he had nothing to loose in approaching Jesus to beg to be made clean. He was desperate.
William H. Willimon, in his commentary on our text, shared the following story from his childhood. “A little girl in my second grade class got the dreaded disease of polio. Our teacher described to us the possible complications of her disease. She told us in some detail about the bad things that could happen to her body.
But our teacher also told us that, because of the polio, we could have no contact with her. We could write her a get-well card, but we could not visit her. And I remember thinking at that moment that the polio itself wouldn’t be all that terrible. I, as an eight-year-old, could put up with the physical pain and inconvenience, but the isolation, the shunning, the loneliness would be the worst.” End quote.
And how does Jesus respond to this desperate man’s plea? Mark tells us that “Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I do chose. Be made clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.”
According to our text, as it reads from the New Revised Standard Version,
this story seems like just another one of Jesus’ miraculous healings, a manifestation of his divine compassion for those in need. But have you ever noticed how changing a single word can really alter the meaning of a text?
According to several commentaries that I read on our lesson, the phrase “moved with pity” is not really the correct interpretation of the original Greek word that Mark used to describe the motivation for Jesus’ action in healing this leper. From the earliest manuscripts of Mark, the motivation for Jesus healing the leper reads, “Being angry, Jesus reached out his hand and touched him…”
I believe this really changes the dynamic of this story. To me, “Moved with pity…” is not the same as “Being angry…” I must admit that I like the idea of Jesus showing pity and compassion for the leper. It gives us a picture of Jesus that we all like to envision – a Jesus that could weep at the death of his friend Lazarus – a nice, kind and loving Jesus. But when Mark tells us that Jesus “being angry,” as he was when he overturned the money changers tables in the temple, gives us the insight that Jesus was truly human. For who among us, has not become angry.
But what was Jesus angry about? That is the key to understanding our lesson for this morning. At first we might think that he was angry at the leper, for violating the rules regarding his quarantine. How dare this man approach Jesus, and risk giving him that dreaded disease, giving him that same sentence to living in isolation?
But the commentaries that point out that our text should read that Jesus was angry, also point out that his being angry at the leper is highly unlikely. After all, Jesus could have ignored the leper’s request, and simply walked away from him. Furthermore, if Jesus was angry at this man bringing a dreaded disease to his feet, why would Jesus reach out and touch the man. After all, Mark tells us that he could, by a spoken word, cast out demons.