Warning: Jesus is Contagious!

Mark 1:40-45
A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity,(or other authorities read anger) Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately the leprosy* left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’ But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.

A cursory reading of the footnotes for this text in any bible reveals the need for some “translation of the translation” if we are going to access the text in our 2012 contexts.

We know nothing about lepers.
Truth be told, it is unlikely that the disease we associate with leprosy is the disease refered to in the biblical text.  The leprosy we know probably only came to the middle east from India after bible times. In Bible times “leprosy” which literally means scaly or rough refered to any skin disease like psoriasis, acne, or boils. In a pre-scientific time, the fear of contagion would have made people reluctant to have contact with anything which may have caused them to suffer or even be excluded for society.
It may be useful in our context to return to the literal words of rough and scaly as referring to the people we cast out from our circles of acceptance and avoid contact with. I am sure most of us have rough and scaly relatives, right inside our families we would want to avoid contact with.

I will leave you to make your own two lists…

1. Rough and Scaly people I personally choose to avoid.

2. Rough and Scaly people that the church should avoid.

The texts show Jesus moved with emotion (the majority say pity but others say anger). I quite like the choice. In fact I can even picture Jesus feeling pity for the rough and scaly outcast and anger at the society that marginalised him.
It would be a good balance for modern day Christ followers to keep, don’t you think? Can we be prophetically angry at the structural violence that crushes people and groups, whilst keeping our hearts open with compassion for the sufferers?

Another aspect of the passage that bears explaining is this continual demand for secrecy by Jesus. There are many theories since the first advanced by William Wrede in 1901. You can read them here. For sake of simple proclamation this Sunday, it seems most likely that Jesus wanted to avoid celebrity so as to move about freely.
We should never forget that he was in the North because he couldn’t be in the South. The gruesome death of John the Baptizer at the hands of Herod down South was the reason for Jesus being in Galilee. So some secrecy might have been a matter of security

Despite the above, I also affirm the theory that in the understanding of Jesus, the notion of Messiah had become distorted by the political expectations and yearnings of oppressed people. Jesus didn’t want to become a Messiah of the Popular Mould. He needed time to show who the Suffering Servant was. That would only be completed when he showed the depths of his love in death.
Again a modern context question arises.  Do I trust Jesus to be himself as I follow him or do I want hime to fit my preconceived mould I have cast for him?

Finally, I love how effective the attempt at silencing the healed leper is!
For all the best reasons for secrecy which we have considered above, there is something Jesus has underestimated.
He hasn’t reckoned in the power of effervescent witness from those who have been touched by God! There is just no silencing the babble of blessed ones. As Don Fransciso made famous in his song, “I gotta tell somebody, what Jesus did for me!”

Could it be that the church is dying today as it is, because we have protected ourselves from the possibility of the healing encounters that might happen if some rough and scaly people got close enough to Jesus?
Our sanctuaries and our sacraments are sanitised and leprosy free.
Rough and scaly people are just not welcome.
So instead of effervescent witness there is sterile silence.
Sad really…


9 responses to “Warning: Jesus is Contagious!”

  1. Grant Bakewell, Jr. avatar
    Grant Bakewell, Jr.

    Stir up your power, O Lord,
    and with great might come among us;
    and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins,
    let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us;
    [that we may recognize and welcome thy rough and scaly, thy tired and poor, thy marginalized and minimized, despised, and rejected:]
    through Jesus Christ our Lord,
    to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,
    be honor and glory now and forever.
    – The Book of Common Prayer

    — A slightly altered version of a famous Anglican collect for the first Sunday of Advent (“Stir up Sunday”), perhaps more fitting for this week (Epiphany 6A)? Shall we followers of the Prince of Peace now stir up more than a nice batch of Christmas pudding this year?

  2. Don avatar

    Thanks Peter. Such good stuff. “So instead of effervescent witness there is sterile silence.” Also no effervescent discussion and life, just the same old sterile submission to all that is “plonked” in to peoples’ heads and hearts..

  3. Richard Ward WIlson avatar
    Richard Ward WIlson

    God has no limits, and is willing. Our limits, for the most part, are that we aren’t willing.

  4. Peter avatar

    Thanks Lyn,
    I guessed as much

  5. lyn avatar

    Sorry I was speaking in irony and didn’t make myself clear.

    The perception is that the church speaks with God’s voice or for God…therefore what the church rejects is perceived to be what God rejects. You are right, I do beieve that God embraces the very people the church rejects.

  6. Peter avatar

    Hi George,
    Thanks for taking time to write a wonderfully challenging comment.
    The Listening Hermit

  7. Peter avatar

    Thanks for commenting Lyn,
    Not sure I can agree with you last line, “and of course God rejects whatever the church rejects.”
    Perhaps you tripped over the ambiguity of your sentence?
    I don’t think the church has any power over God, despite our delusions of having that power.
    It also seems that God affirms, seeks out, welcomes and heals, the very people the church rejects. (Which is, I think, what you meant to say?)

  8. lyn avatar

    Peter you touch on something close to my own heart. The call to inclusiveness is central to the Christian church, yet sadly, rarely heeded. There is a history of exclusion beginning with the Gentiles and those classed as “foreigners” and even people with a mental illness or left handed people at one time. Women, until recently.

    The list goes on and on and seems bizarre to us now, yet still today we are adding to the list. Gay people are the latest ‘rough and scaly people” as the church continues to treat homosexual people with the same “sterile silence.”

    In every instance, it’s ignorance that feeds prejudice. Whatever the church doesn’t understand it rejects, and of course God rejects whatever the church rejects.

  9. George avatar

    “Do I trust Jesus to be himself as I follow him or do I want hime to fit my preconceived mould I have cast for him?” –
    Mate it sounds like an easy question to answer, till you actually have to answer.

    “For all the best reasons for secrecy which we have considered above, there is something Jesus has underestimated.” –
    I think I read somewhere that Jesus’ self understanding of who he was developed over the period of his ministry, then again I may have just made that up 🙂 Still as you say he may well have underestimated some things and in this case he may have underestimated the power of Love to effect change in more ways than we can imagine?

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