God-Soaked World Daily Bible Guide – Day 24
March 29, 2017
Wednesday, March 29 – Mark 1:40-45
40 A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, 44 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.” 45 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.
Points of Interest:
- Back from the desert, Jesus has embarked on a rural teaching tour. In homes and worship settings and gatherings in his hometown region, he’s talking about what God is like and helping people out along the way. He’s apparently developed a reputation for being helpful because this diseased individual isn’t begging generally but specifically begs Jesus to make him well again.
- We don’t know if this leper has the condition we call leprosy in modern times or some other communicable skin disease. What we do know is that in Jesus’ culture, there was a tradition going back centuries of staying away from these people. This was part public health and part cultural spirituality. People with these conditions were considered untouchables to avoid contagion. They were also treated as outcasts because people assumed – and had some old biblical warrant for doing so – that God had cursed or rejected or punished these people. If so, why associate with them?
- This clarifies the language of the leper’s request. The leper doesn’t ask for healing but cleansing. However he hopes this will happen, he wants to be accepted by God and restored to community, to not be an untouchable outcast anymore.
- In the leper’s mind, the question for Jesus isn’t one of ability but will. In the leper’s psychology, Jesus can make him acceptable by God and restored to community. He has the power – perhaps as a healer, perhaps with the community’s spiritual authority as a rabbi – to make this man acceptable to God and community. The question he has is whether or not Jesus would want to do such a thing. All of his experience to this point with religion and religious leaders would tell him, probably not.
- So Jesus does three different things, almost all at once. First, he touches the untouchable, saying you are not beyond human touch and connection and love. Then he says, I do want you to be restored; in my eyes and in God’s eyes, you are not a dirty outcast. You are now clean. And then, as a pretty sweet bonus, he also heals the man’s skin disease. Based on the man’s jubilant reaction, and not really listening to Jesus’ final words, I’ve got to think this is beyond his highest hopes for this encounter.
- Jesus touches this man, changes his self-concept, and heals him, so why the mysterious command to be quiet and to immediately go to the priests and go through his religion’s approved reentry rituals for someone who’s healthy after suffering from a skin disease. One possibility is that Jesus is more interested in a reputation as at teacher than a miracle-worker. At numerous other points in Mark, Jesus seems to want to avoid enthusiastic spectacle. Beyond this, Jesus also seems more interested in this man’s welfare than in his own popularity. The priestly cleansing commanded by Moses was a public health measure and spiritual reentry process. The testimony they would see was that this man was no longer a threat to others’ health and could be fully restored to the social and religious life of his community. Jesus wants our experience of God to increase our connection to community, not to marginalize us.
- Well, out of misunderstanding or exuberance or some other reason, the former leper ignores what Jesus has to say. How this works out for the former leper we don’t know, but it’s sort of a pain for Jesus. Jesus isn’t interested in gaining the power of celebrity, but wants to offer the power of touch to others. Now it’s a little harder for him to do so.
Prayer for your Six – Most of us could use more touch – literal and metaphorical – from others and more, rather than less connection to God and community. Pray that each of your six would experience love, touch, and acceptance – from God and others – today.
Spiritual Exercise – This week our spiritual exercise will be listening to and meditating on the words of Jesus, letting God speak to us through them. In today’s passage, Jesus is moved with pity. If that’s a loaded phrase for you, you can say that he was moved with empathy. And out of empathy he says, “I choose. Be made clean.” Sit quietly and imagine Jesus speaking these words to you. What is your reaction to these words? How are they easy or hard to receive? How do they encourage or inspire you?