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

Leprosy, Hansen’s disease, is caused by a bacterial infection. Over time it can be very damaging. Around 200,000 new cases show up around the world each year. It is easily treated with a combination of modern drugs and highly curable. But it wasn’t always this way.

In Jesus’ day, all disease was considered a spiritual matter with communal implications. The Jewish laws proscribed very specific treatment for those with outwardly visible physical afflictions. God is punishing them! Kick them out of town! Have nothing to do with them! Even menstruating women were considered unclean and supposed to keep to themselves during their cycle.

Today, when I read “leper” in the Bible I always remember the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic. The fear. The grief as people mysteriously got sick and then suffered until death. The social judgment and ostracization that those testing positive faced. Ignorant and opportunistic preachers perverting the Christian faith, manipulating their followers with fear, fueling their prejudice and lack of information, by declaring AIDS to be God’s punishment for homosexuals.’

No. It was a virus that attacked the human immune system. Once understood, it could be treated. With proper treatment, even those who test positive for the virus can live long and full lives without coming down with a full blown case of AIDS.

Jesus had room in his life, in his work, in his heart, for suffering people. Jesus understood both the physical pain of illness and the social pain of blaming the victim to protect the community. So when Jesus was confronted by a leper desperate enough to break the social taboos against approaching a “healthy” person, Jesus welcomed him. He cured him. Then he sent him back into his community so that his physical cure could lead to his social reconciliation.

Again, surprisingly, Jesus tells him not to say anything to anyone except the priest who needs to rubber stamp his cure. Again, just wait until the end of the story so you can really understand what Jesus’ healing means.

Again, not surprisingly, the man can’t help but blab to anyone who would listen. I get that. Last weekend a friend shared some new information with me about weight loss, something I really struggle with. They couldn’t help but share what they found to be wonderfully promising information, even at the risk of offending me, because they care. Now I’m trying something new and like them, and like the leper in the story, I’m so excited that it is all I want to talk about. That is the way it works, it is how the faith spreads, and we all get to play.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, sometimes the brokenness in our lives is on full display for all to see. More often, we suffer from the inside out and no one sees. Always, the most important medicine in our lives is love. May your love birth compassion and healing in us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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