Scripture: Mark 1:40-45
This week I have really struggled with knowing what to say. This passage is one that can speak volumes to us if we let it. It can also be left with little or no spiritual enrichment. My first intention was to go into the various aspects of the disease known as leprosy. To speak on how this disease we rarely hear about today was often lumped into any skin disease that caused discoloration. And how because of it people were shunned from society.
But I find no pathway or clearness to this line of teaching. Well little clearness. Instead I am struck by the social and community aspects of leprosy. The people who happened to be plagued with this disease were literally treated as zombies. They were the living dead. Dead to the family and to the community. They were run out-of-town to the chorus of everyone screaming unclean and tossing stones in their direction. My heart actually aches when I consider the torment they received for a disease they had no control over. In Jesus’ day those with this disease often gathered in the valley and caves outside of town left to scavenge through the trash to scrap out their livelihood. These very same valleys were the illustration Jesus used to describe hell. These valleys were filled with garbage and set on fire, an unquenchable fire because there was a constant source of fuel.
These walking dead, these children rejected by the community, were once loved, they were once cherished but not now. They were seen as the very source of condemnation. They were seen as the curse of the nation, the unclean in a culture dedicated to hygiene.
These zombies were forced to walk around the nation with bells on their clothes and whenever they met another anywhere they were to scream as loud as they could “unclean”. The closest they could come to society was to spend the night in a graveyard because no clean person would spend too much time in a cemetery. It is easy to see that many of the fears and urban legend of old were actually stories of encounters with these lepers just trying to survive in a world bent on their destruction.
This man came to Jesus. This man risked everything just to meet with a man he thought just might be able to help him. He risked meeting a crowd of people on a road who had every legal right to stone him to death with no consequences. He risked over exerting himself and dying of exposure. He risked starvation, and great bodily harm for the mere hope that the man who could heal the blind might be able to give him life and free him from his death.
I wonder if I would risk that much? Would I be willing to pull myself out of the pit of hell just for the chance to meet the one I call Lord. Would I risk being vulnerable to the entire community, would I risk revealing all just for the hope that the one called Jesus could deliver me?
Tough questions. The truth is not so easy to reveal. We too live in a culture that pounces on weakness like it is a disease that must be eradicated. We hang posters on the walls of our locker rooms saying pain is just weakness leaving our bodies. We shun weakness because we would rather live in a lie that were are strong in ourselves. This strength is only a facade. Even the most atheistic cultures realize that when faced with death at every step the human being is weak. And in times of war those cultures would allow greater religious freedom because they realized there was something beyond their control offering a source of strength they could never humanly give.
Vulnerability, weakness, disease. We do not wish to reveal these to the community because we do not know how they will react. If we were to reveal weakness or uncertainty would we to be declared unfit and ran out-of-town with the hum of stone whizzing past our heads. Yet this man against all odds, against the councils of society made a journey to fall at the feet of Jesus, just to cry out to him, “If you choose you can make me clean.”
There comes a time in our lives where we must be open and honestly come to grips with our own reality. We are weak, we are unclean, we are not able to do everything we thought we could on our own. The old testament laws left provision for the lepers to be reinstated into the society. This can only mean that with proper care these people could be healed. God never intended that they be left in total exile forever, but that there was a way to be reinstated as members of the community. If this disease was so bad and untreatable then wouldn’t God have had mercy on them and command their destruction as He did with mildew on clothing or mold in a house? He did not command their death but only quarantine. This was and still is a disease of great importance it can be detrimental to anyone who contracts it. But it does not have to be.
Jesus was willing. He became the way to free this man from living death and hell on earth. He a Rabbi, an upstanding member of the Hebrew society disregarded the rules of the culture and he stretched out His hand and physically touched this man. A man whose skin was literally in a state of decay, was touched by a teacher in the community that pushed him out into the garbage heap. To touch a leper could seal your own fate. To touch the unclean could condemn your own life to the state of uncleanness. Yet Jesus reached out his hand of mercy saying, “I do choose.”
He chose. He chose to meet this man in his state of disease, he reached out his own hand to take the other’s, and he released him from his bondage. He chose to accept the unacceptable. He met the most rejected and lifted him up into a new life.
Jesus is willing. I asked if I would be willing to risk everything for hope, the next question is would I risk everything to bear hope? Jesus was willing, he put everything on the line just to talk with this zombie of a man, he took it all a step further by touching him and showing compassion. Am I as one healed, cleansed, and freed by Christ willing to do the same for the people our culture rejects? Am I willing to lay my time out to meet the needs of another, will I be willing to part with the money I rightfully earned to give to someone who hasn’t earned anything? It is a hard question. I don’t even want to think about it let alone ask. Yet that is what Jesus is calling us to do. He is willing. If he is willing to take this man by the hand, shouldn’t we too be willing to embrace those who are unfit in our culture. He told his disciples what we do for the least among us, we do to Him. If He is in the least then he is the leper seeking cleansing, he is the lame seeking to walk, he is the blind one sitting at the gate, he is the man or woman standing with a sign at the end of the exit ramp. He is the child shivering in the cold. He is the one asking for a job. Are we willing to be His hand reaching out to the rejected, are we willing to say to them, “I do choose.”
leprosy scares me not because it is an illness, but because it leaves those that contract it without feeling. It leaves them unable to feel if an activity is causing harm. They can be burned or cut without their knowledge which can lead to massive infection. Leprosy is contagious but the worst form is not one that can be cured in a hospital because it is the leprosy of the heart, one that leaves those that have it unable to feel compassion or mercy. Those that have it are more than willing to chase those around them off with stones and screams, unwilling to reach out a hand to help or encourage. I pray we do not become a culture of lepers, but a community in love with God, embracing the leading of the Holy Spirit, and willing to live Christ’s love with other. As we enter this time of open worship let us reflect on what that lifestyle means to us.