February 16, 2003

Mark 1:40-45

A leper came to [Jesus], begging on his knees, "If you want to, you can cleanse me."

Deeply moved, Jesus put out his hand, touched him, and said, "I want to. Be clean." Then and there the leprosy was gone, his skin smooth and healthy. Jesus dismissed him with strict orders: "Say nothing to anyone. Take the offering for cleansing that Moses prescribed and present yourself to the priest. This will validate your healing to the people." But as soon as the man was out of earshot, he told everyone he met what had happened, spreading the news all over town. So Jesus kept to out-of-the-way places, no longer able to move freely in and out of the city. But people found him, and came from all over.

[The Message]


1. I have no doubt that the healed leper thought he was doing Jesus a favor by telling his story. I have no doubt that many people think they are doing Jesus a favor by telling their story as though it were the gospel truth for everyone.

It is important to note that this runs counter to what was expected of them (to treasure this in their heart and to give thanks through the institutional means available to them) and resulted in Jesus being confined to a smaller arena and making it more difficult for people to find him, though it is recorded that many did still find him.

A question before us is when is silence a virtue (joining the rocks in their usual form of praise) and when is witnessing a detriment (our self becoming a stumbling block)?

2. Miscommunication is always a clear and present danger in congregational life. Here is has been raised to a fine art. We agree to one thing only to turn around and do the opposite as soon as we think we can get away with it. It is so difficult for us (partly because of our teaching) to follow when it runs contrary to our natural inclinations and will bring us notice in another's eyes.

It is difficult to restrain ourselves when something "wonderful" has happened to us. There is a tendency to turn everything our way (to be a center of the universe, if only for 15 minutes). This is another way of talking about pride and its manifestation through bragging.

It is so difficult to practice humility when we could claim to have been touched by GOD and set ourselves above others. Yet practice is what was asked of this leper and is asked of us today.

3. We have grown used to the idea that one cannot trust the usual means of grace (communion, prayer, scripture meditation, etc.) to be effective in getting what we want when we want it. We look for the flashy way, the short-cut way, the latest way. This shows up in our approach to government (intended to be a blessing for the community) and is carried over to our approach to church and its breadth of traditions.

This leper evidences a modernity unexpected. He doesn't trust the healer of his body to also know about the healer of his soul. The ability to accept this healing in the context of tradition was not present in this leper or in much of the church. So, told to be quiet he blabs.

One could also reflect on this being a variation on the story about the nine lepers who did not come back to give thanks when they were healed on their way. It is evident that this lepers form of giving thanks went contrary to a real thankfulness, which would have the leper going to the priests. It is almost like what feels like staged or short-term healings in the healing shows that come and go. So, was the healing retracted for the disobedience? Was the healing sealed, regardless of any future foul-up? How do you play with this story in your own life and the life of the people with whom you associate?