Summary: In the kingdom of God, the unlovely are loved and the untouchable are touched.
Jesus’ Upside Down Kingdom
Rev. Brian Bill
[Note: Elements of this introduction come from a sermon called “From Leprosy to Life” by John Mayes].
He knew something was wrong...very wrong. But he hoped that if he waited long enough, it would just go away. But it didn’t. In fact, it only got worse. Soon, others started to notice that he looked pale and sickly; and he realized that he would have to take a journey to a far-away city to figure out what exactly was going on.
After several days, he reached the city and made his way to a room where he had never been before in order to speak to someone he had not met before. After what seemed like several hours, the door opened and a man wearing a uniform entered. The man examined the stranger, “It’s here,” as he rolled up his sleeve and revealed an open, runny sore. Again he said, “It’s here,” as he slipped his collar to the side, exposing another oozing sore. “It’s here too,” as he removed his sandal, where there was yet another puss-filled nodule on the top of his foot.
And with that, the priest jumped back with a wild look in his eyes and said to the man, “I declare unto you that you are unclean. Now hear the words of the law: ‘A Leper must wear torn clothes, and his hair must be unkempt, and everywhere he goes, he must cover his mouth with his hand and shout out, ‘unclean, unclean.’ He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.’ May God have mercy on your soul!” And at once, the door slammed shut and the priest was gone.
The man’s worse nightmare had just come true. As he slowly picked himself up, he stood there in that dark room for several minutes in a state of shock. Then, with determination, he started ripping his favorite robe that his wife had made for him. Then he bent down and gathered some dust and rubbed it all over his face and hair until he looked like nothing more than a wild-man. When he stepped outside and squinted at the brightness of the light, he slowly covered his mouth with his hand and choked out the dreaded words, “UNCLEAN! I’M UNCLEAN!!!”
And for the first time in his life, people wretched and recoiled when they saw him. A mother quickly grabbed her children and yelled, “Don’t touch that man! Stay away from him!” A vendor of vegetables on the street corner threw something at him and shouted, “GET OUT OF HERE!”
Quickly the leper made his way outside the city into the open countryside and headed for home. But the worst was yet to come, because he knew he could no longer have contact with his wife or children! When his wife saw him coming from a distance, she and their children ran to their father with joy and excitement, only to hear him growl at them and say, “KEEP AWAY FROM ME! I AM NO LONGER YOUR FATHER! I AM A LEPER!”
A funeral service was held for him in his village by the local Rabbi because he was considered dead the moment he was diagnosed. The man’s health went downhill quickly. He was covered from head to toe with a sickly stench that took one’s breath away. His body started decomposing and the odor of death poured out of every pore. The word “leprosy” is from lepros, meaning scaly. In the Old Testament “leprosy” means “to rot” and that’s exactly what was happening. His skin was like a pool of slime. Dr. Luke mentions in Luke 5:12 that he was “full of leprosy” or “covered” with it. It’s like someone having full-blown AIDS or terminal cancer. He was a dead man walking.
When people saw him they would throw stones at him…as he neared the end of his life, his face resembled a lion’s more than a man’s. He hardly looked human anymore. He was isolated and unwanted. One of the laws added by the rabbis said that it was unlawful for a leper to approach within 50 feet of a clean person. On a windy day the rule changed to 200 feet.
The man’s eyesight was failing; he knew complete blindness was approaching. He had already lost all of his fingers, five of his toes, and one of his ears. The leper had become utterly repulsive to others…and to himself! If this man would have joined us on Easter, and if he could have held a marker in his hand, he would have scribbled out these five words on his sign [Hold up cardboard sign].
Pastor Jeff kicked off our new series from Mark’s gospel last week by asking the question, “Who is This Man?” I hope you’ve taken his challenge to read a chapter from Mark every day as we seek to answer this question about Jesus. After being baptized and then tempted for 40 days in the desert, Jesus calls some men to be his disciples, drives out an evil spirit and heals a lot of people, including Peter’s mother-in-law. Mark 1:28 tells us that “News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.” One day, as was His custom, Jesus got up very early and found a solitary place to pray. Peter and his pals find Him anyway and tell Him that everyone is looking for Him.