Today’s Gospel: Mark 1:40-45
It is tempting to expect a pat lesson from each Bible story, but we don’t always get one. Sometimes the Bible just tells us what happened. We end up with more questions than answers.
A leper came to him . . . “Leprosy” here can refer to any of a number of skin conditions, some deadly, some merely annoying. It is easy to dismiss the Jewish quarantine laws as so much fearful superstition. Keep in mind that God Himself gave these laws to the Jewish people. The law of God, even the ancient Jewish law that can seem so extreme to our modern sensibility, is rooted in our good. Think of the quarantine laws as an ancient equivalent of a nurse who dons gloves before she draws blood, or the child being taught to cover a cough.
The leper is now addressing the very same God who prescribed the law that has radically altered his life.
. . . kneeling down and begged him . . . Why the begging? It seems obvious: Who would want to be a leper? Nobody.
Still, we do not know what it was that made this man so desperate: Fear of death? Painful suffering? Loneliness? Shame? A desire to provide for his family? To hold his newborn baby? To worship God in the Temple? We don’t know. Jesus did know, but we don’t.
We should be careful not to assume we know why another person seeks God’s mercy.
If you wish, you can make me clean. How did the man know that Jesus had this power? I find this to be one of the most moving moments in this story: This man knows what Jesus can do for him.
Do we know that? Think of the Sacrament of Confession: If you wish Lord, we beg at the throne of mercy, you can make me clean of these sins that I hate, but cannot get rid of by my own power.
He stretched out his hand, touched the leper. Remember we are talking about contagious disease. Remember that anyone who touched the leper was himself made unclean.
What can we hear our Lord saying? This is too much for you, but it is not too much for me. I can handle this. I can redeem this.
Jesus doesn’t come just to be a very good man. He doesn’t prescribe an ointment or pay a doctor’s bill. He owns this world. He is here to transform it. To make all things new. He wills to make us clean. To make us fit for his holy dwelling place for all eternity. Our biggest, nastiest, most unspeakable problems are nothing to Him. He can touch them, and make them clean.
See that you tell no one anything. What was Jesus thinking here? Why bother asking the man to keep it quiet, when surely our Lord knew he wouldn’t?
Or was it the other way around? Did most people whom Jesus healed tend to just move on quietly through life, and never let anyone know what He had done for them?
He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.
So the healed man directly disobeys an order from God himself, and now Jesus has to camp out in the middle of nowhere.
I wonder sometimes if the reason this story was so memorable, the reason it made it into the Gospels, is because the disciples were inconvenienced by it. “You remember that leper who opened his big fat mouth and ruined our visit to . . . ?”
He [Jesus] remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere.
But the situation is redeemed. The man disobeys, Jesus has to camp out, but look: People are coming to our Lord.
I marvel at God’s ability to make use even of our thick-headedness. We do what we think is right, regardless of whether it’s what God wants us to do. Things go wrong. And God turns that wrong into something beautiful and good.
There’s no simplistic lesson in this Gospel passage, because it’s not a morality tale, it’s a true story: Another day of Jesus going around redeeming us.
How has God turned the “wrong” into something beautiful and good in your life (whether recently or in the past)? Have you shared the “good news” with anyone?
Thanks, Lord, for all you have done for me, and especially for those things that I haven’t thought to thank you for. Help me, today and always, to touch those around me as you would.
Copyright 2014 Jennifer Fitz