Summary: The leper in this miracle story obviously had a problem and needed a solution. At the end of the story we see the evidence of his cure as he was able to become a member of the crowd from which he had formerly been an outcast.
TOUCHING THE UNTOUCHABLE
Text: Mark 1:40-45
I will never forget a story that I had to read in College. It was called Bartelby The Scrivenor, and it was written by Herman Melville. In that story, through the eyes of the characters, we got to see a man who was a mystery simply because no one knew anything about him. Any time his employer tried to get close to him, he remained withdrawn and in his own words simply "preferred not to ..." In the end, he died and all that was known about him was his name.
When we read the story about the leper, we can see that he has a lot in common with Bartelby. We can also see the difference between the two in that Bartelby’s walls of withdrawal were built by himself whereas the leper’s walls of withdrawal were built by rules and regulations that were not of his own design. The rules that kept the leper on the outside of the community of faith were a part of Old Testament Law that was contained in the book of Leviticus. As a leper, he was automatically an outcast, socially, religiously and even family-wise. He was treated as a dead person even while he was still living.
Someone has said (Lamar Williamson, Jr.) that there are three parts to every miracle story, the problem, the solution, and the evidence of the cure. (Lamar Williamson. Interpetation: Mark: A Bible Commentary For Teaching And Preaching. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1983, p. 58). The leper in this miracle story obviously had a problem and needed a solution. At the end of the story we see the evidence of his cure as he was able to become a member of the crowd from which he had formerly been an outcast.
The leper’s problem was that he was not happy because of his lifestyle. Obviously, the lifestyle of an outcast is not what anyone, except someone like Herman Meliville’s character Bartelby, would "prefer". The Leper in this miracle story had no say-so about how he was treated because of his condition. Leviticus 13:45-46 gives us the background for how he was regarded as an outcast. "The Law protected the community from contamination. It also declared a leper clean once he/she was healed," (Richard Carl Hoefler. There Are Demons In The Sea. Lima: The C.S.S. Publishing Company, 1978, p. 63). God created us to be involved and to interact with one another (Ephesians 4:25, First Corinthians 12:26). We are the keepers of our brothers and sisters (Genesis 4:9). We are supposed to love our neighbors (Luke 10:27). The one thing the leper wanted that he did not have was to belong, to be included and allowed to participate in the life of the community.
Having had enough, it seems, the leper one day boldly defied the rules for lepers. It has been said that the actions of the leper could be described as violent (R. C. Hoefler, p. 54). His violence was not a violence as we of the think of violence---the use of physical force. His violence was a "violation" in that he violated the boundaries that were set for lepers. He crossed the boundaries that lepers were not supposed to cross. He boldly went where lepers were forbidden to go because he wanted to be healed. He wanted to belong, to be included and to be involved in the life of the community instead of having to be treated as though he were dead.
Imagine what it would feel like if you were outcast or ostracized because of a disease that you had. As someone has observed "Many times the real pain of a person who suffers comes not from a disease or a handicap, but from the attitudes of those around him" (Hoefler, p. 56). Although it may not be intentional or thought of as intentional because we are most of the time not on the receiving end, "Our thoughtless reactions to other’s afflictions separate us from them. ... In some cases it is a fear of contamination. We fear that we might catch what they have, so we are reluctant to shake hands with them or avoid touching anything in the room. ... We do not want to be around afflicted people because they depress us. We visit them out of a sense of duty. The afflicted person can sense this and is hurt by it" (Hoefler, p. 56).
There are some people that we might consider to be a freak because of their disfigured appearance. Consider the story of John Merrick who was known more by his disfigured appearance and labeled as the "Elephant man". "John Merrick was born in Leicester, England in 1862. He suffered from a severe bone and skin disorder that progressively disfigured him grotesquely. At three, he was abandoned by his mother, who deposited him at a workhouse. He was rescued from there only to spend most of his life being exploited in a traveling circus exhibit that featured him as a freak---"The Elephant Man".