12 February 2012Mark 1:40-45
"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!'" (vv. 40-41)
If you ask a group of non-Christians what they know about Jesus,
they will possibly describe him as a wise teacher who went around
healing the sick. However there is more in this familiar story than
a miraculous cure, wonderful though that might be.
In Jesus' time anyone with a serious skin disease could be declared an outcast by a priest and banished to the outskirts of a town or village until they died or healing took place. The law laid down that they should tear their clothes, cover the lower part of their face and shout, "Unclean, unclean!" to warn anyone of their presence (Leviticus 13).
There were also very precise instructions laid down for a priest to assess whether healing had taken place, so that the person concerned could be declared 'clean' and returned to society. We might think that this process was overly complex but these were days long before antibiotics were available, and removing victims from society at least temporarily limited the spread of such infectious diseases.
Therefore this leper should not have even approached Jesus, and certainly had no right to speak to him. He was either very foolhardy or desperate, and the dialogue would indicate the latter.
Jesus shows great compassion and wisdom in his response. His priority is simply the sight of someone in need who had the faith to believe they could be healed. He looked beyond the disease to the person behind. He saw through the disfigured skin and acknowledged a human being loved by God. This is true compassion.
There can be a tendency in some churches to be mission-focused, but with an unspoken hope that any new members will be 'like us' rather than presenting challenging needs or problems. We have to remind ourselves when unlocking our church doors that Jesus welcomed all who came to him, and reached out to embrace the outcast and the respectable alike.
How easy is it to push those with challenging needs to the periphery of the church? Whose problem are they?
In the story, Jesus didn't just heal the man and let him go on his way, he asked him to complete the process laid down in the law for certifying a healing. Why do you think Jesus did that?
What steps could your church take to become a welcoming place for all people, including those you might find difficult to love?