Saturday, September 20, 2008

Jesus the leper

Last week during my church's junior high youth group meeting, the focus was on "Jesus the healer." We read Mark 1:40-45 (NIV):

A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, "If you are willing, you can make me clean."

Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.

Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: "See that you don't tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them." Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.

Something struck me as I thought through this story. I had always heard and thought that Jesus "could no longer enter a town openly" because he became so wildly popular due to his healing ministry. But then I thought this: He just touched a leprous man, who according to the Law was ceremonially unclean and had to live a solitary existence outside the city walls (see Leviticus 13:45-46). Anyone who touched such a diseased person also became unclean. Additionally, because many such leprous diseases are caused by bacteria, those who dared to contact lepers were feared to be disease-bearers themselves.

Could it be that because the now-healed leper spread the news that Jesus had touched him, Jesus couldn't enter public places because he was shunned as also unclean? The NIV's rendering is perhaps a little more nuanced or embellished than other translations, but it hints in this direction. Like the lepers, Jesus too had to stay out in "lonely places," cut off from the rest of society. And "yet"--in spite of his disgrace--other sick people still continued to stream to him.

Jesus' ministry was a radically shameful one in the world's eyes. As he worked his miraculous healings, the evangelist Matthew says that this fulfills what was spoken by God through his prophet Isaiah: "He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases" (Matthew 8:17). In bearing all our sin-sick ailments that defile our souls and cripple our bodies, like the lepers of old, he too had to go "outside the camp," bearing man's shame (Leviticus 13:45-46; Hebrews 13:11-13).

Many ask the age-old question, If God is both loving and sovereign, why do people suffer? But I believe that this portrait of Jesus, among many others, shows to us the wonder of his redeeming ministry: God does not stay aloof on his holy throne (read: Allah), but enters into and takes up within himself the worst of man's pains and curses, suffering alongside us and, ultimately, in our place upon his Cross.

"Jesus is my hero. He took all the bad things of the world into himself." - my Turkish friend Deniz

1 comment:

Ted M. Gossard said...

Amen, Andrew! (good thought in there, too, I'm not sure I've thought about before) Our hope is in the Lord, and for good reason.

And in Jesus we're called to this same kind of ministry- death to be at work in us, so that life may come to others (2 Cor).

Of course only in Jesus and because of him taking our sin that we might share in his righteousness: in standing (justification) and in becoming more like him (progressive sanctification).

Good clear teaching. A good sermon. Thanks.