A Place For Lepers

One of my favorite Jesus stories is the one told in Mark 1:40-45. It’s a story about Jesus and a leper whom Jesus heals. But it’s so much more.*

A Kingdom Story!

ImageLet’s think about the context a bit more. As already mentioned, this story occurs early on in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus has already appeared in the Galilean region proclaiming the good news (gospel) of the kingdom of God. This is a declaration that the reign of God has started breaking forth upon history and that people should change (repentance) everything about their expectations of what this means and accept (believe) what they hear and see, which is Jesus preaching and teaching with authority as well as healing the sick and driving out demons.

That all sounds good but it makes even more sense why this was called “good new” when we read of Jesus’ encounter with this leper. This leper approached Jesus and said to him, “If you are willing, you can make me clean” (v. 40). Take notice that the leper did not ask about the ability of Jesus to make him clean. He already believed Jesus had that ability. What he questions was Jesus’ willingness and that is apparently because Jesus’ religious contemporaries were unwilling to help this leper at all.

But Jesus was… Jesus is!

Here is what happens. The text says, “Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched our his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I am will. Be clean!'” (v. 42). I suppose Jesus simply could have spoken and cured this leper of his disease but that’s not what Jesus did. Moved by compassion, Jesus treated this leper as a human being by touching him. He didn’t have to but he did because restoring a sense of value and dignity to this leper was that important. That’s because this is what it looks like when the kingdom of God is at hand.

Moved With Compassion…

Now here’s the caveat… In chapter one of the Gospel of Mark, as Jesus proclaims the good news of the kingdom of God, he calls us to follow him. And we say “Yes! We will follow Jesus.” But even as we say yes, I wonder how many people there are around us who are crying out to Jesus saying, “If you are willing…” The encounter Jesus has with this leper teaches us something very important to following Jesus. If we want the people in our community to believe in the good news then just as Jesus was, we had better be the people who are moved with compassion when they cry out to God. Whether we encounter an actual leper or just someone who has become a societal leper because of their present life circumstances, we dare not be the religious people who turn a deaf ear to their cries.

A lot of energy is spent these days on the declining influence of Christianity in the western world. I have a strong feeling that everything will be just fine so long as churches learn to follow Jesus and become a place for lepers, reaching out and touching them with the compassionate hand of Jesus!


* This post is my contribution to the Compadres Blog Tour.

12 responses to “A Place For Lepers

  1. I’ve always loved this story, where Jesus reaches out and TOUCHES the leper. Thanks for reminding me of this bit of good news!

  2. Churches following Jesus … how did things ever get so far off track that this central truth is a shocker?

    Better yet, though, how about every individual Christian follow Jesus and encourage every believer to follow together with them, and encourage unbelievers to consider Jesus carefully and come along and follow Jesus, too?

    • I think when all the effort was put into the fight over some periodicals like the Herald of Truth and how its leadership was arranged and fighting other churches and people for not having the identical beliefs and so on, this distracted from the old tenets of Christianity like decency, compassion, etc. Those issues got people riled up and were more entertaining than helping the suffering.

  3. I am glad you brought this up. This is one of those suppressed stories that rarely made it into a sermon. There are many people today who are treated as though they are lepers. Some are merely of the wrong gender, wrong age, wrong political persuasion, etc. The Law had lepers kept outside the camp, not killed, so that the disease did not spread. If and when one’s leprosy were healed, the priest had to declare one clean enough to reenter the camp. This was probably the first effort at a Public Health Service, quarantine dept. Now for a more recent example, Mother Teresa did this all the time in the streets of Calcutta.

  4. Compassion is a frightening thing to a lot of church folks. To them it is flinging open the gates to let in all the evil they see battering the walls of the kingdom, as well as society and the nation. Well, I have news for them; it is in the kingdom already.

    I say this only to point out that we pretend too much, and fail to be a confessing, humble people, ignoring how much we are like those who frighten us. Oh, we have so many secrets, so much guilt, while thinking we can defeat our demons by destroying them in others. And when we are found out it is THEN we start throwing the words compassion and mercy around and liken ourselves to Biblical heroes. “Oh, I’m like David”, or “Peter had a problem with prejudice, too”. That is what we like to call confession; it lets us keep a little self esteem.

    But confession is when we take off the Sunday clothes so that our running sores are no longer a secret, and those who we have been fighting hear us say, “I’m no Biblical hero…I’m like you”. And the irony of it is, that is when they see Jesus.

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  6. Great reminder, Rex. I taught this story recently from Matthew 8 & we explored where the lepers caveat “if you are willing” comes from. As you noted, it is not “can you” but “will you”. This seems to be one of the powerful interpretive keys that gets us into the heart of the story and allows us to walk around in the disease-ridden skin of this man who has no social worth or value. Because of something beyond his control he has been alienated, outcast, and pushed to the margins. So “if you are willing” is the leper asking “Am I worth it?” This makes the compassionate touch of Jesus that much more powerful and transformative in the life of this man. What a redemptive story!

  7. Thanks everyone for the good comments. We clearly struggle to be like Jesus at times and extend the compassion that is willing to offer a human-touch to even the lepers. May this story of Jesus and the leper give us the courage to be more like Jesus!

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