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We don’t get down on our knees enough… ‘A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”’ (Mark 1:40). Look at Jesus response: ‘Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.’ (1:41-42).
Last week we saw Jesus the healer, full of compassion, One who is effectively able to take away sickness, pain, and sin. Today’s Gospel identifies the man imploring Jesus as having leprosy. Now scholars would be quick to point out that the Greek word used here, which is traditionally translated as ‘leprosy’, was used to describe various sorts of skin diseases. Leprosy was incurable then, but not all of the other types of skin diseases associated with the ancient term ‘leprosy’ were. And don’t be mistaken to think that leprosy is but an old biblical disease that only poor people in the third world somewhere still suffer from today. Leprosy remains and is common in many countries around the world. It causes terrible skin sores, and with them, nerve damage and muscle weakness that gets worse and worse over time. In fact, you can still find many established leper colonies dotted around the globe.
Historically, leprosy has been greatly feared because it symptoms are so visible, bring horrendous disfigurement and disability. Commonly believed to be highly contagious (which it is not), a leper was forced to live on the edges of society. In Jesus’ day, people would go as far as to hurl rocks and stones at lepers if they dared strayed to close. Left to beg at a distance, it really was a pitiable existence.
But look at Jesus. He is not afraid. He goes as far as to reach out and touching the man with leprosy who came to Him, begging for mercy and healing: ‘if’…
The second Jesus touched that man, in the eyes of the Jewish leaders He defiled Himself, He made Himself unclean, which was well in-keeping with the Old Testament book of Leviticus (chapters 13 and 14). He had, as it were, contaminated Himself. Being ritually unclean meant that you could not partake in any of the liturgical events of the nation Israel, rendering the victim a social and religious outcast.
It was only once you had been healed of your skin disease, and you had presented yourself to the priest, and he examined and confirmed the healing, that you would be considered cured – which is exactly to where Jesus ultimately sends the man. A thank offering in the temple is the final requirement.
So you can but imagine the revulsion and disdain of the onlookers as Jesus is compassionate, but not just compassionate, He actually touches this diseased man. Astounding. But Jesus, being Jesus, is able to look beyond the externals, that which is going on on the outside. He sees the inside. And that is where the true value of a person really lies.
Mother Teresa was once quoted as saying, ‘The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted’. That is how that man felt before Jesus reached out and touched Him. It doesn’t matter what you look like, it’s what is on the inside that counts.
One of the biggest problems we face as a society is that we are fixated on the externals. Now that’s not to mean you shouldn’t dolly yourself up a little before coming to Church or going out to work. But spending 3 hours in front of the mirror? And when you are ugly, well let’s face it you are ugly, at least by the world’s standards. That’s why you have those cliques at school. You know, the cool people: thin, fashion wise, guys with the six-pack, girls with the flimsy clothes and the perfect body on the one hand; and the social outcasts on the other: little bit overweight, or you got big ears or a big nose, pimples – and I’m not even going to go into matters of race and language. Thank God He sees though all of that, and so should we. There is no inferior person before the Creator.
It is so important, and a vital part of our Christian mission, to reach out to those who feel unwanted, for whatever reasons. Christians have been doing that since the start. We follow Jesus’ example.
‘Almost every age has had its social outcasts, people barred from normal society whether through physical illness or national origin. One person who stepped across these barriers in India was pioneer missionary Mary Reed. Already working in India, Mary visited a leper colony and was deeply moved by the people’s plight. Later Mary contracted leprosy herself and went to work with the lepers, eager to tell them that she knew firsthand their pain and trauma. She became head of the leper colony she had visited, and in the years following many were saved and a church built. Mary retired at the age of eighty-four after many years of faithful service to these social outcasts’ – Today in the Word (January 1990).
I wonder, how many of us, would be willing to do that?
Do you have any idea how good it feels to be touched, loved, and felt wanted by someone, when all you get on a daily basis is ridicule, scorn, being made fun of, gossiped about and rejected all because – and this is very often the case – of something that is on the outside that you can do absolutely nothing about?
There was an old Sunday school chorus that we used to sing, I remember it so well… It goes like this: ‘Reach out and touch the Lord as He passes by. You will find He’s not too busy to hear your heart’s cry. He’s passing by this moment, your needs He’ll supply, Just reach out and touch the Lord as He passes by.’
You know beloved, if you take the time to think about it, in a sense, we are all lepers. We’ve all in one way or another been tainted by sin. And we need the touch of our Saviour. Sin is ugly. It deforms. It warps and twists both our thinking and our actions, and causes us to have little regard for the needs of others. But we too have an opportunity to be healed. By reaching out and touching the One who came to bring healing to every manner of man. Jesus wills and wants our salvation. His incarnation, death on the cross, and resurrection proves that. The leprosy of sin He can and will wash away, restoring the penitent to new and perfect spiritual health. Christ heals. Christ cures.
And perhaps we need to spend a little more time on our knees, begging Him for His mercy and healing, and having received as much, to go out into a world that is filled with hurt and hate, acting as His sent instruments. What could be more satisfying than being an instrument of God’s grace?
Speaking of skin disease, our country has 165 dermatologists – those are the doctors who specialise in skin diseases. Ask me how I know this? Well, the week before last we lost #166, Dr John ‘Oupa’ Moche. He was gunned down in a hijacking in Riviera while sitting in his brand new Range Rover. Two attackers walked up and shot the doctor in the heart before speeding off with his vehicle. It was later recovered having been found abandoned in Atteridgeville, which is a township up in Pretoria. He was the head of the dermatology department at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital, and he leaves behind a shattered wife and two young children.
Do you know that it takes more about 12 years to train a medical specialist and reading this tragic news report, I just kept on thinking: How many people could this doctor not have helped, had murderous thugs, people filled with hatred and evil in their hearts, not shot him to death? And what causes men to do such appalling acts if not sin and wickedness?
This is the world we live in. The reality is that it needs Jesus, it needs the Good News, and it needs salvation. And clearly without Him, there is only sickness, desperation, hurt, hatred and anger. Come, Jesus, ‘If you are willing, you can make [us]clean.”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,