This week I’ve been, among other things, busy preparing a sermon on Christian Ministry from chapter one of the Gospel of Mark. In particular, I’ve been drawn to the fact that Jesus announces the good news of God’s kingdom breaking forth upon history (v. 15) which is followed by the call to follow him (v. 17) and the eventual healing of the leper at the end of the chapter (v. 40-45).
The story of the leper has always been one of my favorite Jesus stories and yet it’s also a very challenging story. In fact, you might say that after answering Jesus’ call to follow him, Jesus takes us to a place that will challenge both our fears and assumptions we have in this world.
Because of his skin ailment, the leper is regarded by the Jewish community as unclean. Today, we have the unclean as well. One such person came up to me yesterday asking for a dollar to spare while I was strolling through a neighborhood on the upper east side of Manhattan. Neither this person nor others in similar predicaments are actually unclean. “Unclean” is just the unspoken label we have placed upon such people because of their transient lifestyle. So in the unfair world of social-caste systems, we still have among us the unclean.
Unclean is precisely the fate of the leper. He is regarded as a social outcast which makes him unwanted, sub-human, and unworthy of even a minute of anyone’s time…except for Jesus. But the leper is not sure. He questions not Jesus’ ability to heal him but his willingness because he knows all to well that even the religious people – those who lay claim to a lifestyle ordained by God – have nothing for him.
Perhaps the leper has earned his caste position in society. That is after all what so many seem to believe by tossing the doctrine of karma around…that good comes to those who do good and bad to those who do bad. Of course, one glance at a picture of the many children’s shoes once worn by children who died in the Nazi death camps and I think you’ll agree that the doctrine of Karma cannot stand.
This is why I love what Bono, from the iconic rock band U2 (in case you live in a cave) said about Karma. “…I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge.” We all would. That’s why we need grace and mercy. That’s why we need Jesus because he understood grace and mercy, and showed it to in the way he lived his life
So Jesus “reached out his hand and touched the man (v. 41, NIV). Then Jesus healed the man…that leper…that human-being…that child of God. The Gospel of Mark never uses the terms “grace” or “mercy” in this story but I think both terms are great ways of summarizing much of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus recognizes that what people need in this world is to be treated with grace, to be shown mercy…especially those who we as a society have shunned as social-outcasts.
The beauty of it all is that Jesus calls us to follow him and thereby tells us that we no longer have to embrace the cruel and unjust myth of Karma. Instead, we can be people showing grace and mercy.