20 February 2013

Mark 1:40-44

"I do choose. Be made clean!" (v. 41)


Leprosy, and similar skin conditions, has a devastating impact on a person's life. In biblical times the sufferer not only had to deal with the physical effects of a debilitating and disfiguring illness, but they were completely isolated from the community, until they were formally declared clean of the disease. They were required to stay a safe distance from everyone. They were also ritually unclean and unable to take part in any religious rituals. There was no known cure. It is no wonder that the leper who approaches Jesus is desperate.

For Jesus to reach out and touch the leper was unimaginable in the culture of the day. Not only did he risk catching this disastrous disease; but he was making himself ritually unclean, unacceptable in respectable Jewish society and in the worshipping life of his community. The action would have held an even greater sense of shock than when Princess Diana sat on the bed of an AIDS patient and held his hand.

The thinking amongst respectable people of the day was that associating with, eating with, or having physical contact with, those who were of low rank or ritually unclean could contaminate you and bring you down to the same level as them, until such time as you had gone through the proper purification process. Jesus seemed to reverse this; he brought others up to his level. His touch brought wholeness to those who lacked it. He made the sick well, brought peace to those with disturbed minds and hope to the desperate, and restored sinners into a right relationship with God.

The leper can also be seen as a symbolic figure - the epitome of uncleanliness, of a person cut off from God. So this healing is demonstrating that no matter what state someone might be in spiritually, or whatever has been done, no-one is beyond forgiveness; all can be restored into a right relationship with God. If, like the leper, we acknowledge our need, and approach in trust, we will hear the same response - "I do choose. Be made clean!"

To Ponder

  • Is there something in your life that makes you feel cut off from God? How are you going to allow that to be resolved?
  • If you have already been "made clean", how would people recognise that in your life?
  • How ready are you to value everyone, regardless of status, age, gender, colour, sexuality, nationality, or (dis)abilities? Are there those you would find it difficult to welcome into your church or social group or to recognise that they are people for whom God has a role? How might you change?

Bible notes author

Philip Sudworth

Philip has retired from a career in the education service. He is now kept busy by voluntary work with local children's charities.