Friday, January 13th. Mark 1:40-45

A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, 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.” 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.  Mark 1:40-45

 

I looked up “leprosy” in Wikipedia.  Here’s what it said:  “Leprosy or Hansen’s disease is a chronic disease caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae and Mycobacterium lepromatosis….Left untreated, leprosy can be progressive, causing permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs and eyes. Contrary to folklore, leprosy does not cause body parts to fall off, although they can become numb or diseased as a result of secondary infections; these occur as a result of the body’s defenses being compromised by the primary disease.  Secondary infections, in turn, can result in tissue loss causing fingers and toes to become shortened and deformed, as cartilage is absorbed into the body.”

 

95% of the population is naturally immune to these bacteria.  Those who aren’t can catch it by simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time when an infected person sneezes.  There are about 100 new cases reported in the United States each year. 

 

There was no Wikipedia in Jesus’ day.  But there were people suffering from leprosy.

 

A significant number of Old Testament passages deal with skin lesions and other signs of physical illness.  All shared the same diagnosis – God is cursing you.  And all shared the same cure – get away from us so we don’t get cursed too.

 

On the one hand, I have heard people argue that this was God’s way of protecting God’s people.  Ritual washing and the like was a religious act but it had the side benefits of helpful hygiene.  In the same way, this argument says that the prohibition against eating pork was God’s way of protecting people against contracting trichinosis.

 

On the other hand, you can read the same verses and see the fearful reaction of people triggering a kind of “herd” instinct which then begins to include rituals of behavior, the sole purpose of which is to set “our” herd over against “your” herd, so that “our” herd can live in the illusion of safety.  The truth is, there are lots of scary diseases and it is very mysterious who comes down with them.  You can get trichinosis lots of other ways than strictly from eating pork and you can get other kinds of food poisoning from eating just about anything.  The herd instinct, rather than offering protection to the safe, really just adds emotional pain on top of the physical pain suffered by those who get booted from the bunch.

 

Enter Jesus and the first leper who approaches him in Mark.  Jesus welcomes him rather than shunning him.  Jesus is there for him rather than avoiding him.  Jesus heals him and tells him to return to his community.  To follow the rules, check in with the priest, and, for reasons we will consider as we move through Mark, not to say anything to anyone. 

 

There have been many times in history when people acting in the name of Jesus demonstrated this kind of love, care and compassion to those suffering from horrible diseases.  Fearlessly, Christian caregivers have established clinics and hospitals and sent missionary doctors to very scary places.

 

And there have been times, as we have seen in the case of HIV/AIDS,  when Christian voices have fallen prey to fearful herding and excluding, heaping emotional pain on top of physical pain with callous moralism and public shame.

 

Which reaction looks more like Jesus?

 

Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, fill us with the same kind of compassion that you consistently showed to hurting people.  Come to the aid of those who have been shunned and excluded through the often uninformed fears of others.  Bless those who serving in the healing professions and draw near to those who suffer.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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5 Responses to “Friday, January 13th. Mark 1:40-45”

  1. Randy Nelson Says:

    Also, the children of the leper parents and don’t automatically acquire leprosy. They’re just kids. Leprosy is acquired in adulthood. Specifically, at Gadag Leper Colony, Hubli, Karnataka, India, the Christian Pastor there has established a children’s orphanage there which ministers love, education, meals, activities & compassion for the family. Thanks.

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