06 February 2006

touch

Mark 1:40-45, "If you will, you can make me clean."

I run into people all of the time that don’t really believe that they can be healed . . . or that their life can be any different than it is right now. That is living without hope.

In biblical times that was like living with leprosy. To be honest though, biblical scholars are not quite sure what leprosy was except that it was a skin disease. And this leprosy is not necessarily the same disease that we call leprosy today. There were all sorts of things that the priest should do if the leprosy is in the hair, other things to do if it is in the house, if the spots are red or white or raw and irritated. If your leprosy is at a certain stage or a certain type, then you would be declared “unclean”. And even if your leprosy was eventually cured, you would still have to return to the priest to be declared “clean” again.

It was a terrible thing to be declared “unclean”. You would have to wear clothes that are torn and tattered. You had to cover your mouth at all times. If you were near someone else, you had to shout “unclean” so that they would know to avoid you. And in addition to that, you would have been quarantined outside of town so that no one else would become unclean.

Leprosy was not only a disease that was physically uncomfortable, it was also a condition that would isolate you from your family, from your friends, from everyone. Because of your disease, you would be an outcast. It is not a lot unlike people with AIDS or cancer or some disabilities that tend to make people uncomfortable to be around. There is something about disease that reminds all of us that we are mortal, that we are human, that none of us are perfect and all of us are vulnerable. It could be any of us . . .

But in the story from Mark 1:40-45, it is not any of us. It is this person who is merely called a leper. There is no name given. It is like being in a hospital where you hear the doctors and nurses talking about the amputee down in room 455. Sometimes it is our weaknesses and our difficulties that define us. Sometimes everyone around us sees our disease first. I’ve been around enough medical settings to know that we sometimes refer to the “bipolar” or the “cervical CA”. It is dehumanizing.

Well this leper does something that he was not supposed to do. He spoke to Jesus! Instead of staying in his quarantine and shouting “unclean!”, this person actually talks to Jesus.

But then Jesus does something that he is not supposed to do either: he touches the leper.

You see to touch someone who is unclean would make you unclean. We know that some diseases can be communicated via the touching of skin. But this was not just a physical uncleanness, Jesus would have been expected to go to the priest and make a sacrifice of some sort in order to be “cleansed” again. But Jesus does what he is not supposed to do: he touches the one with leprosy. And this leper does what he is not supposed to do by asking Jesus for the healing in the first place.

But sometimes we have to take that chance . . . we have to do things that are unexpected or that we have been told we are not supposed to do. It was not the accepted thing for Jesus to touch this leper, but he did. It may not make sense to us either that Jesus touches our lives in ways that we do not expect.

Sometimes it is not our diseases that ail us. Sometimes it is our unwillingness to take a chance, to do something that other people might frown on but that we know deep down in our hears is right, the thing that God is telling us is right. Sometimes it is not anything inside of us that is the problem; sometimes the problem is all around us. Sometimes our ailment is that we are afraid to take the risk . . .

Sometimes we feel so alone and outside that we can’t possibly believe that God loves us and cares for us. If we are the leper, we must believe that God cares for us too. Jesus is willing to touch you despite what you believe everyone else thinks, despite what the world may say. God does care for you.

And for us all, God’s grace is available for us, no matter what it is that ails us.

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