Over the years, every time I read this story, I make a side note with these words “hahaha” or “lol”. I read that story today and wrote the same.
It’s the story of a leper, rather a former leper who disobeyed Jesus and got away with it. Sounds bad, right? Matthew, Mark and Luke refer to this leper in their narratives, but only Mark makes this rather curious observation. Matthew and Luke seem to have not deemed this important, but Mark does.
Theologians and commentators describe Mark’s narrative of Jesus’ life as the account of Jesus’ actions. In Mark’s narrative, Jesus is on the move, on a mission, on with his father’s work. Jesus feeds, the hungry, heals the sick, raises the dead, calms storms, recruits team members, moves from city to city and town to town, teaches in the synagogues, argues with the religious leaders, cleanses the temple, I mean Jesus is on fire. The story of the leper, according to Mark, is one of Jesus’ foremost action points.
This leper came to Jesus and begged him to make him clean. If you are a student of bible history, you know, leprosy was a stigmatising disease, much like our present day, HIV/Aids. When a person contracted leprosy, he went to a priest, the priest would examine him, if it was indeed leprosy, the priest would declare him unclean. If the priest determined he needed to see whether the rash would spread, he would quarantine the person, and seven days later, the priest would examine him some more, and if the spots had spread, the priest would declare him unclean and immediately quarantine the leper from the general population. The leper was separated from his own people, family, friends, business associates and everyone he had ever known.
But what Jesus does, the focal point of the blog, is my “hahaha” or “lol”. After healing the leper, Jesus sternly warned him not to tell anyone what he (Jesus) had done for him. He only needed to go to the priest and fulfill the requirements of the Mosaic law. But this former leper went and talked freely about it and spread the news about Jesus and his healing. I always laugh when I get to this part. This man disobeyed Jesus and got away with it. What was Jesus thinking? How does Jesus give a leper what he doesn’t deserve (grace) and then expect the leper to be quiet? Did he really expect this man to just keep it to himself and enjoy the blessings alone? No ways. I am sure this man went and told other sufferers about Jesus and how Jesus could heal them. I am sure he planned donkey trips to take more people to Jesus. I am sure he put adverts on the local dailies announcing the new healer in town.
Jesus gave this man a law, and as it is in his fallen nature to break the law, this man broke the law. He disobeyed Jesus’ instructions. I was thinking, most likely Jesus got a taste of who he was, the lawbreaker. Jesus had broken the ceremonial laws, and this man followed suit. The saying goes, as the shepherd goes, so go the sheep. In Mark’s narrative, we don’t read Jesus getting mad at him, yet Jesus got angry with religious leaders or with people who disbelieved him. But with this man, this man who openly disregarded his instructions after receiving grace, Jesus is not bothered at all. Mark doesn’t mention at all Jesus’ displeasure at the man.
But then we would have to consider why this man disobeyed Jesus’ instructions.
This is a man who came to Jesus. Jesus moved with compassion, stretched out his hand and touched him. First, this was an act of total disregard for the ceremonial laws. No one was to touch this man, but Jesus did. God broke his own law. Jesus touched this man, this man who had not felt human touch for years. Human studies experts tell us we are creatures who need human touch. Human touch is vital for our survival as a species.
It is now common scientific knowledge that when mothers give birth, the baby is often given to the mother, in what is now known as skin-to-skin contact to help parents to bond with their baby, as well as supporting better physical and developmental outcomes for the baby. From birth, we need human touch.
This corona virus epidemic has most certainly highlighted this need. We need to see, feel, hear and touch other human beings. CNN and other news channels run these ads which show grandmothers looking through the windows at their newly born grandkids. In one video, a grandson built what he called the cuddle curtain, so he could hug his grandma. In the video, gran cried with joy as she hugged her grandson. Human beings are made for touch. We can’t live without it.
Jesus touched this man and said to him, I will. Clean. This is the literal translation of what Jesus said.
Moved with compassion, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; Clean.”
Every time this phrase “I will” is used in the bible, it’s regarding what God does for us. God’s “I Wills” are actions of grace, and we are the receivers or beneficiaries of those “I Wills”. Jesus reversed the one-word proclamation of the Old Testament priest, unclean, with his own proclamation, I WILL, CLEAN! And immediately the leprosy left the man. It was all Jesus’ doing. That’s what grace does. Grace did everything. Grace does everything.
This man received grace instead of judgement. Jesus gave him grace, compassionately and willingly. This makes the religious and irreligious person mad. The religious person wants you to earn your grace—you need to reach out and touch God. Do something. The irreligious person isn’t concerned with God’s existence, so where God doesn’t exist, there is no compassion and grace. But Jesus confounds the religious and irreligious person. He reverses the order. He touches us and makes us clean.
This leper experienced God’s unconditional goodness, went away and told others what Jesus had done for him. I would have done the same. There is no way I was going to keep quiet about it.
Taste and see that the Lord is good, the Psalmist wrote. (Psalm 34:8) If you’ve been to a fine restaurant that served you an excellent dish, you will want to tell your friends about it, right? Man, there is no way you can taste and see God’s lavish grace and be silent about it. No way. If angels in heaven rejoice when we taste and see God’s grace, what about we mere mortals? Man, it is impossible to be quiet. Remember the Samaritan woman? She encountered God’s goodness, and the city heard about it. Something about God’s amazing grace that won’t make you stay silent.
Finally, remember this, on the cross Jesus became unclean, Jesus bore our sin and shame, so you and I can be clean.
I thought I should encourage you. Go ahead and disregard jesus; instruction to be quiet. Go ahead and tell the world of his grace.
That’s what grace looks like.
Photo by Daniel Páscoa on Unsplash