Feb 10, 2018

6th Sunday: "I do will it . . . "




"If you wish, you can make me clean"

Mark 1: 40-45


It seems often in conversation with parents that they will identify at least one of their children as a kind of rebel in the family.  In larger families there seems always one who will push the boundaries more than the others; one who is a little more on the edge and maybe takes more liberties with expected norms of good behavior.  These aren’t bad kids necessarily but they seem to have, compared to the others, a more daring spirit. 

Today’s beautiful scene in the Gospel highlights two individuals who certainly pushed the boundaries of cultural expectations: both Jesus and the person afflicted with leprosy.  It’s clear that the man afflicted with some sort of serious skin disorder was in a desperate “I have nothing to lose” situation. 

Those afflicted with such a disfiguration were obligated to live outside the community.  They were not permitted to come near to anyone without first a verbal warning and bells ringing.  In the same way, no one not even family members would be permitted any physical contact with the lepers lest they become ritually unclean themselves.  The diseased were identified as sinners and their condition as a punishment for personal sin. How could anything be worse for them?  Branded and shunned by everyone they remained in a most desperate condition. 

So, it would be understandable that the leper who approached Jesus recognized that he had nothing to lose since he had already lost everything.  He boldly crosses the boundaries and approaches our Lord in great faith and trust: “If you wish, you can make me clean.”  The revelation of his absolute faith that Jesus could heal him moved Jesus to the depth of his heart.  No doubt he could do it but would he? The leper's request to be made clean is a plea to be so both without and within.  

Mark states Jesus' reaction as “moved with pity.” Scripture scholars tell us that Jesus’ emotional reaction was far more than just a kind of surface “sorry to hear that” kind of sense.  He was moved to the depth of his being and so identified with the suffering of the man that his immediate reaction is to grant healing. Like the leper who broke through barriers to approach Jesus, so too our Lord did the same: “He stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, ‘I do will it. Be made clean.”  Ignoring the warning of ritual uncleanness, Jesus touched the man and restored his sense of dignity and humanity.  In doing so he assured the leper that his life would be restored to wholeness and worth and in the eyes of God he never lost that in the first place. 

We can only imagine the unbounded joy this man felt when despite Jesus warning he publicized this whole matter everywhere he went.

This is a powerful scene and Mark tells it with great emotion: courage, desperation, compassion, empathy, and unrestrained joy.  Like an early disciple the healed man goes off to announce the good news of who Jesus is and what he had done for him. 

Can I see myself before the Lord pleading for his mercy?  Can I see myself in the place of the leper?  Such thinking is part of what Mark wants for the reader. Maybe even, who is a leper for me?  Who have I avoided, pushed out, refused to forgive?  My sin, my pride, my prejudice and narrow mindedness, my desire to control everything according to my preference, my gossip, my unrestrained desires, my lazy spiritual life and lukewarm participation in the Gospel message, my hidden life, etc.  Lest we go on to admit our own personal "leprosy?" 

Such important questions ring true in light of this scene.  As Lent begins this Wednesday what better reflection could we begin with? As we approach Lent the sacrament of reconciliation stands clear as an invitation to God's merciful healing.  There the Divine Physician welcomes us to be restored to cleanliness.  

The Eucharist is the greatest gift Jesus could have left for us.  Here he becomes food for us despite our personal disfigurement and sin. Here he sits with saints and sinners.  Jesus came that all would feel welcome to plea before him: “You can make me clean.”  The perfect food of the Eucharist, Christ himself, is given that we may be made clean and follow in his way.

Let’s tear down walls of prejudice, rejection and judgment and reach out to one another in compassion.  Then Christ will truly be among us.   

Ever faithful God, you sent into the darkness of our lives
your Son Jesus Christ, the light of the world. 
Stretch forth your healing hand over all the afflicted. 
Give them serenity of mind and peace of heart. 
Raise them up in body, soul and spirit 
and deliver us from all evil.

(Glenstal Book of Prayer)