Summary: When people are in crisis the caregiver ministers by the grace of God with compassion and help.
Title: Tipping Points and Turning Points
Text: Mark 1:40-45
Thesis: When people are in crisis the Caregiver ministers by the grace of God with compassion and help.
I wish to begin by saying this story is primarily about Jesus. In the story a leper approached Jesus and said, “If you want to, you can make me clean or you can heal me.” And it is Jesus who said, “I want to and I will.” The story is about Jesus having compassion on a man and acting in his behalf. So it is primarily about Jesus.
In the context of identifying Jesus as the primary character and caregiver, we may choose to identify with Jesus and see ourselves as ambassadors or representatives of Christ in the world who see the desperate peoples of the world with heartfelt compassion and act in their behalf.
However, the story is also about a leper, who may be representative of any number of desperate people who find themselves in desperate circumstances. So secondarily, we may wish to identify with the leper… we may be feeling more like the leper than Jesus. We may see ourselves as desperate people who, having tried everything else, turn to Jesus asking if he wants to and will, intervene in our circumstances.
So primarily it is about Jesus, but it is also about a man who found himself in desperate straits. Perhaps who you are and where you are today will be the determining factor in how you apply the truth of the story to your life.
So let’s begin with a little review of the context from which our story emerges.
Following Jesus’ baptism and temptation, he began his public ministry by choosing his closest followers and establishing a routine of public teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum every Sabbath. In Mark 1:21-22 we read that the crowds who heard him teach were amazed by the authority with which he taught.
It was in the context of his teaching at the synagogue that a man possessed by an evil spirit disrupted his teaching. Jesus immediately exorcized the demon, which added a new dimension to his public perception, not only as one who taught with authority, but one who even exercised authority over evil spirits.
In Mark 1:29-34, the unfolding of Jesus’ public ministry continues that same day with the healing of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and then that evening with the healing of a great number of sick people who were suffering from a different kinds of diseases… as well as the exorcism of many more demons.
The following day, Jesus escaped, so to speak, to a quiet place in the wilderness to be alone and to pray. But his disciples eventually found him, hoping to bring him back to Capernaum where many more had gathered to be healed. But Jesus told them that they would be moving on to other places because his calling was to preach in other towns as well. We are told in Mark 1:39 that Jesus traveled throughout Galilee preaching and exorcizing demons.
Our story today begins with an encounter Jesus had with a leper, Mark 1:40.
A leper’s life was characterized by separation or isolation… separation from one’s family, friends, faith community, and society. The leper was designated an “unclean” person.
Isolation or separation or marginalization can take many forms, but not the least of which is a physical deformity.
Last December the New York Times reported on the first U.S. face transplant operation. The woman’s face was horribly disfigured… everything between her forehead and lower jaw was missing. Her life was marked by humiliation and name-calling. Her doctor said that children literally ran from her when they saw her face. The surgeon said, “You need a face to face the world.”
In a marathon 23 hour surgery, a team of transplant surgeons reconstructed her features and gave her a transplanted face. Surgeons anticipate that she will be able to eat, speak, breath, and even smell again. (Lawrence K. Altman, First U.S. Face Transplant Described, The New York Times, December 18, 2008)
The benefits for this woman are not just cosmetic… the significance is in the social consequences. She will no longer be a horrifically disfigured social outcast.
We define leprosy in terms of Hansen’s Disease, which is a dreadful illness that affects nerve endings which makes the victim insensitive to any pain… which in turn eventually results in the rotting away of injured body parts when left untreated. The effects of leprosy can be hideous.
In biblical times leprosy was broadly defined and would have included what we know as Hansen’s Disease, but also things like psoriasis, acne, eczema, cellulites, and even dandruff. Any blotchiness or rash or flakiness or discoloration could be cause for literal social isolation.
In Leviticus the Israelites were instructed: “Those who suffer from any contagious skin disease must tear their clothing and allow their hair to hang loose. As they go from place to place, they must cover their mouth and call out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as the disease lasts, they will be ceremonially unclean and must live in isolation outside the camp.” Leviticus 13:45-46