Summary: Jesus heals the leper that he may experience the joy of being restored to those that love him. Here we are challenged to work for healing and restoration in the world, with the compassion of Christ
Mark 1:40-45 ‘Jesus – the Healing, Restoring Compassion of God’
I wonder how many of you enjoy going to the theatre, the cinema, or perhaps watching TV drama? I personally like watching drama, thrillers, full of suspense and tension! You know, when the audience is not sure what is going to happen next, especially when two or more characters meet together in an emotionally ‘charged’ situation. The sort of encounter that has us sitting on the edge of our seats!
Well, if we think of our verses today from the Gospel of Mark in terms of theatre, of drama, then maybe we can appreciate more fully the atmosphere of tension – the suspense – that surrounds the story we’re told there.
Imagine then the scene set before us. Jesus and the four new disciples (whom we have been hearing about over the past few weeks) have left the hometown of Simon and Andrew, James and John – where Jesus had begun his healing / teaching ministry in earnest. Simon’s mother-in-law had been sick with fever, but had been touched by Jesus and been healed. And many, many people that had been sick and in the grip of ‘evil spirits’ had come to him and received healing themselves. Jesus and his new disciples had then left that town, and proceeded into neighbouring ones where he had taught in synagogues and brought healing and wholeness to all he touched.
It seems that so many are the people that came to Jesus, and so varied their maladies, that Mark has no time or space to be specific about the nature of their complaints. That is the case anyway until, as Mark tells us, a LEPER appears on the scene – and what a dramatic ‘entrance’ this individual makes! For this person does not simply walk on ‘stage left’ and casually approach Jesus to talk with him. No – he RUSHES on and THROWS himself to his knees at Jesus’ feet, exclaiming – even BEGGING him – “If you choose, you can make me clean”.
Now HERE is a dramatic scene, fraught with suspense, if ever there was one! Imagine the scene as the leper IMPLORES Jesus to ‘make him clean’, and imagine the intensity of Jesus’ response as he (as Mark tells us) ‘is moved with compassion’, reaches out to touch the unfortunate individual and says, “I do choose. Be made clean.” Jesus then immediately instructs the healed man to present himself to the priest – but NOT to say anything to anyone about how he has come to receive ‘cleansing’. But such is the ELATION of the man that he just can’t help but proclaim the Word and the works of Jesus, as he has experienced him, and by whom he has found healing. Such is the power, such is the intensity, of the atmosphere which surrounds this story, as it is ‘played-out’ in Mark’s Gospel, reflecting the dramatic nature of the healing.
But let us take a step back from the story for a moment, to look at what happened a little more closely, and what it meant for the people involved.
Firstly, what was it to be a leper in the time of Jesus? The term ‘leprosy’ was used as a description for a whole range of bone and skin conditions – some of which were temporary, others permanent – but most of which were highly contagious. The ‘Purity Code’ of the Jewish Faith decreed that anyone who had such a condition should be pronounced ‘unclean’, and that they should be made ‘outcast’ from their families, communities and, indeed, from participating in the worship of the synagogue. Thus, ‘lepers’ were thrown out of their towns or villages in which they had lived, and into the wilderness. They became isolated, feared – and despised – by the people they once lived among. They were considered to be ‘apart’ from God and God’s mercy. For they lived at a time when disease and misfortune were considered to be punishment from God.
So, in the story we see one such despised, feared and isolated individual BEGGING Jesus for his healing touch. And we see Jesus’ response: he responds with COMPASSION – indeed, we are told that he is MOVED with compassion. Now this IS a powerful emotion, compassion. It is not ‘pity’ (as some bible translations have it). Pity is to ‘feel sorry for’ (from a [safe] distance). Compassion derives from the Latin ‘com – passion’ which means, literally, ‘suffer with’. [Think of Jesus’ ‘Passion’ / suffering on the cross]. Some ancient biblical texts tell us that Jesus was moved with ANGER, and comes to the leper’s aid. Either way, Jesus is not distant from the suffering, the feelings, of the afflicted. Rather, he SHARES with him in it, and takes the RISK of being infected himself.