By Dean Denniston
“If you choose, you can make me clean”
These words, spoken by a leper to Jesus, as recorded by the gospel writer, Mark, are quite intriguing to me.
“If you choose, you can make me clean”.
Notice, the leper does not directly ask Jesus to heal him; he does not beg or demand it as his due, nor does he demand that Jesus prove himself to be that messiah, prophet/healer that everyone is talking about by curing his affliction. Rather, he comes with his request indirectly by offering Jesus a choice.
“If you choose, you can make me clean”
Supposing Jesus had refused this request. Supposing he had chosen not to cure the leper, but instead turned his back and walked away. After all, in the preceding passage we are told that Jesus, exhausted from curing the countless numbers of people who showed up at the home of Simon and Andrew, after they had learned of his miraculous healing of Simon’s mother-in-law ,had to escaped to a quiet place where he might pray, recharge himself, and refocus the direction and purpose of his ministry.
It is only after he has had this time alone and has been sought out by his disciples that he goes forth to continue his preaching ministry-and has his confrontation with the leper.
The text tells us that Jesus, filled with compassion does choose to cure the leper. And reaching out with a healing hand he restores health to this man.
The morning lesson, in all its brevity, offers us a number of things to consider. The story of the cleansing of the leper is about choice, compassion, free will, and human contact as a form of healing.
Let’s first consider the idea of choice. Life is full of choices. We make them all the time-consciously and unconsciously. Most of the time our choices are easy and often repetitive-what to eat, what to wear, what to watch on TV, whether or not to do a specific task, … It is only when we face a difficult or challenging choice do we sometimes struggle with our decisions.
Again, what if Jesus had not chosen to respond to the leper’s entreaty. He could have been having a bad day. He could have been tired or focused on other things. He could have been upset or discouraged that his preaching often fell on deaf ears, or that so many people thought of him as more of a healer than as God’s messenger here on earth. There are numerous accounts within the New Testament which describe Jesus’ frustration, and impatience-with his own disciples, with unbelievers, with those shaky in their faith. Wouldn’t you think that Jesus might get tired or worn out from all the requests for healing or help which came his way? Do you ever wonder if he might have wanted to respond to these requests by saying “not right now”, “I’m more than just a healer”, or some such response?
I wonder if he felt hounded by people-always wanting something from him but not offering very much in return. How often do we reach out to Jesus in the midst of our own hurt, confusion, need, sadness and despair-and offer little or nothing in return? And when we have received God’s grace, his love and his compassion; when we have restored some equilibrium and balance to our lives, how often do we remember or choose to say thank you-either through prayer or through our action?
And yet, Jesus responds with compassion to the lepers request. The text tells us that he reached out and touched the leper and the leper was healed.
This is significant in two ways. First, because Jesus chose to act; to heal the leper of his affliction. Secondly, and perhaps of greater importance, Jesus did this by directly touching the leper; by making a physical (human) connection.
In the time of Jesus, lepers were the outcasts of society. There was no medical treatment for this disease-which literally rotted away the body until the person died-usually in about seven years following the onset of the disease. To touch a leper was to expose yourself to the disease and risk being infected. Lepers were not allowed to mix in with healthy or clean individuals. Moreover, they had to identify themselves when approaching others either by carrying a sign or shouting “Unclean”.
Jesus did not need to touch the leper in order to heal him. The Gospels are filled with many accounts of Jesus healing individuals, and even raising Lazarus from the dead without ever touching these individuals.
Jesus did not have to touch the leper in order to heal him-but he did. Jesus touched someone that no one else would touch. By making that physical connection he communicated God’s love for that individual.
How powerful a touch can be when someone is sad, hurting, or in crisis.
Touching can communicate love, support, compassion, understanding, care, forgiveness, invitation. Touching creates a connection between the one in need of healing and the one who can heal. Touching- physical human contact, is part of the healing process.
Jesus touched the leper and the leper was healed. Jesus had the healing touch. What about you? When was the last time you reached out and touched someone in need-whether that individual was a friend, colleague, family member or stranger? When was the last time that you, either by your words, actions, or your touch communicated a message of care, concern, support, acceptance or forgiveness to someone? Touching just one person with God’s love can change the lives of many-including your own.
Jesus calls us to be people who are determined to touch people who need to be touched. God through Jesus also gives us the free will of choice- to reach out with a helping healing hand or heart, or not to do so.
“If you choose, you can make me clean”. How do you choose?
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