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Sixth Sunday After Epiphany
Mark 1:40-45 (NRSV)
The healing of one with leprosy
A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, "If you choose, you can make me clean." Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, "I do choose. Be made clean!" Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.
If you’ve been reading GOOD NEWS all week, you know that we have been talking about leprosy for four days now. The very fact that the Bible spends so much time talking about this debilitating illness makes it clear to me how very important it was to keep it from spreading in the camp and how painful it must have been for people to be diagnosed and ostracized from the religious and social communities to which they belonged.
In today’s GOOD NEWS reading we find that a leper has approached Jesus asking to be healed. This very action is significant for many reasons. First of all, we know that lepers were considered ritually unclean. That meant that they were perpetual outsiders—they lived outside of the camp, they were not welcome in their place of worship, and they were forbidden to approach or touch a “clean” person for fear of contaminating him or her.
So, one of two things must be occurring in this scripture. Number one, perhaps Jesus is outside of the city milling around with the “untouchables.” Or number two, this particular leper decided to defy conventional wisdom and religious tradition and come to Jesus without permission on the slim hope that Jesus would—or could—do something to help him.
Undoubtedly he had heard, like everyone else, of the miracles Jesus had been performing for “outsiders” throughout Galilee. He might have been told that Jesus had healed a man with an “unclean” spirit in the synagogue. He might have been privy to Jesus’ healing work with Simon’s mother-in-law who had once laid ill on a bed of affliction, but later jumped up ready to serve Jesus after he touched her. Finally, he may have heard the whispers and shouts and tears and joy that were in the air all throughout the city and surrounding countryside after Jesus had spent the night healing many people from various illnesses, disease, dis-ease, and disability.
Unfortunately, we will never know how God orchestrated this “Holy Ghost hook-up” between Jesus and the leper, because it is not recorded in scripture. But, what is recorded are the very simple and humble words of the leper once he found Jesus. He said, “IF you choose, you can make me clean.” IF you choose…
My Lord! Isn’t it amazing that so many people approach Jesus with an IF on their lips. They do not know and have not heard or do not believe that GOD really truly does love them more than they can imagine! This man knew what Jesus had done for others, but it is clear that he wasn’t sure Jesus would do the same for him. He knew that Jesus possessed miracle working salvific and healing power, but he wasn’t sure that Jesus would find him worthy of the touch that would save his life. He knew that Jesus had compassion on "the least of these," but he wasn’t sure he even qualified for that lofty title!
See this man had been told by so many, “You are not worthy. You are not clean. You cannot be a part of us. You are not welcome.” He was told this by society, as well as by leaders in his place of worship. He had been beaten and broken down by so many people he should have been able to trust. He was an outsider, an untouchable, the perpetual alien, the "no-good-don’t-touch-me- now-don’t-touch-me-ever" man who made a home outside of the camp.
My, my…Isn’t that sad? And I wish I could say that this side of the cross human beings have stopped treating people like outsiders or that people have stopped approaching Jesus with the IF, but it’s just not true. Although God has demonstrated God’s great love for ALL OF US by allowing Jesus to die on an old rugged cross to become atonement for our sin and to reconcile us to God and to each other, we still ostracize others and we still approach Jesus with the IF.
IF you really love me you will listen to my prayers. IF you really care you will walk with me through this difficult day. IF you really have compassion, you will see my tears. IF you choose, you can help me through my difficult circumstances.
And do you know what Jesus says to all of us today? Jesus says to us the very same thing that he said to the leper almost two thousand years ago. “I do choose! Be made clean!” And scripture says that immediately the man was restored to perfect health!
Now let me say here that I think that the physical healing was the least of the restoration. By touching the man (and thus ritually defiling himself) Jesus said, in effect, “I reject the lie that you are an outsider. I am angry that you have been treated in this way. You are one of us. You are worthy of love and care and compassion. I bring you inside the circle of my love.” So, whilst the man may have been healed physically, he was also healed mentally, spiritually, and emotionally by the radical welcome and overflowing love of Jesus, his friend.
Isn’t this GOOD NEWS? Since Jesus did this for the leper, he can do this for us too. Unlike the leper we don’t necessarily have a dreaded disease that people can see; but as human beings we are suffering from the affliction of sin-sickness. We now understand that it is not our illness or disease or disability that makes us unclean, it is our sin. Sin makes us dirty and is an offense to our God. That is why Jesus had to die on the cross. Jesus wanted to use his blood to cover up the multitude of our sin. Now, when God looks at us God does not see our sin, God sees the blood of Jesus and when we cry “IF you choose…” Jesus says, “I do choose, be made clean!”
Be made clean from your lying lips. Be made clean from your unfaithful heart. Be made clean from you adulterous ways. Be made clean from your willingness to steal from those who have less than you. Be made clean from your gossiping lips and judgmental tongue. Be made clean from ostracizing others. Be made clean from your erroneous belief that you are better than another human being.
I could go on and on in an effort to include all of us, but only you know what your secret sin is. But, the Bible teaches us that as soon as we confess our sin, God who is faithful and just, forgives us from all of our sin and cleanses us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9)
Wow! Isn’t that GOOD NEWS my friends! JESUS forgives us. JESUS washes us. And Jesus transforms our lives for his glory.
Now, after Jesus did this for the man with leprosy, Jesus told him to go to the temple, show himself to the priest and offer the sacrifices necessary to become “ritually clean” in the eyes of society. He understood that it was important for the man to be reconciled with his family and with his community of faith. But, he also told the man not to tell anybody the source of his healing; rather to just do what was required of him by religious law.
Well, I don’t know what happened to that man on the way to the Temple. But, I can use my Holy Ghost imagination, right? I imagine that he probably started on his way trying really hard to “play it cool” like Jesus had instructed. He probably said, “Thank you.” And turned and walked away. But, as he was walking, he might have begun to examine his skin and to examine the feeling of welcome in his heart. And as he examined himself, he might have begun to skip, then to leap, then to run, then to dance, then to turn in circles…He might have begun to whisper, “I’m healed.” Then to say, “I’m healed.” Then to shout, “I’m healed! I’m HEALED! I’M HEALED!”
Do you know that man got so excited that the Bible says that he began to boldly and freely proclaim GOOD NEWS! “Jesus of Nazareth healed me! Jesus of Nazareth healed me!” This man told so many people, that Jesus became so famous, that he could no longer go into the city. I can only assume that this was because the mobs of "outsiders" seeking his love and welcome was so large that they could only be contained out in the countryside.
Can you imagine? This man determined in his heart to make the name of Jesus famous! He did the easy thing—he told everyone he met what Jesus had done for him. He didn’t tell his mother’s story. He didn’t tell his father’s story. He told his own story. He shared with every man, woman, boy and girl who would listen that Jesus is a compassionate and loving healer who had changed his life.
You know, when we begin to tell our stories, people listen. When we speak with passion about how a relationship with Jesus Christ has changed our lives, people want to learn more. Why? Because it is personal. People love reality TV because we want to be connected to the lives of other people in some way.
By sharing our GOOD NEWS stories, we can lead people to Jesus. We can tell them, “Jesus did it for me; he’ll do it for you. Jesus loves me and Jesus loves you too. Jesus wants me, Jesus wants you too.”
When people get a hold of this truth, it changes their lives. It transforms their thinking. It sets joy bells a-ringing in their hearts!
Who do you need to share GOOD NEWS with this week? How can you make Jesus’ name famous in your own sphere of influence? Where can you make Jesus’ love and compassion real in the lives of people who need it?
Loving and Compassionate God, thank you that you do choose to love us and to heal us from our sin. Help us to share this love with others. Help us to make your name famous everywhere we go. In Jesus Name, Amen.
*The entire scripture reading for today can be found by clicking the ELCA Daily Bible Reading Tab to the right.
*from Pastor Yolanda's blog http://aintathatgoodnews.blogspot.com/
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