Let us pray:
Faithful one, whose word is life: come with saving power to free our praise, inspire our prayer and shape our lives for the kingdom of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A reading from the holy gospel according to St. Mark:
A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, 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.
Give thanks to the Lord for his glorious gospel.
Anywhere there is society, there are also outcasts from that society. Those who don’t fit and get excluded either by being ignored or being silenced by the majority. Lepers were one such group of outcasts – excluded because of the way their skin looked because of a variety of health conditions that we now know about and can treat.
Wherever there’s society, there’s outcasts. But notice in the gospels, wherever there are outcasts, there is Jesus. Or, you might say, wherever there is Jesus there are outcasts. Did these people gravitate towards him – sensing an acceptance and warmth that the wider society didn’t share; or did he seek them out, to heal and to comfort. Perhaps both.
Today’s passage describes Jesus encounter with one such outcast, a leper. In this case, it seems the leper is the one who makes the approach. Kneeling at the feet of Jesus, he doesn’t demand or even ask Jesus to heal him, but declares his faith that Jesus – if he chooses – can heal him. The ball is in Jesus court; the decision is his and his alone to make. Faced with the human and emotional need in front of him, Jesus is moved – compelled by conscious and compassion – to heal the leprosy.
Now consider how the healing happens. Yes, Jesus if you like – says the magic words – he commands the healing to happen and it does. Being the Son of God, I’m sure he could have done the physical part of the healing – getting rid of the disease at a social-distance of 2 meters or more. He could have kept this man and his skin condition and his social stigma far away, to avoid contamination. But that’s not what Jesus does. The healing process begins when Jesus reaches out, touches the man and only then does he pronounce the physical healing over him. It’s the key moment that reveals Jesus healing is about more than getting rid of the disease. It includes loving the person and through that love healing the inner life of the outcast, which had so long been excluded and rejected. Had the healing only been functional – like giving out a prescription – perhaps the healing wouldn’t have been complete. The layers of hurt inside, built up over many years, might have remained. The leper’s emotional and psychological pain unresolved. But through Jesus loving touch, suddenly this man finds wholeness and his voice is once again heard in society, and not even Jesus can silence him. Jesus love for him has moved this former leper to speak.
Love can’t be silenced, it comes pouring out of us in poetry and song. I’m sure many of you will be aware of that today, the 14th when we remember St. Valentine. His name is famous because of the love he had for Jesus that he couldn’t shut up about. Love which compelled him to follow the example of the cross and give himself up to be killed as a Christian martyr in Rome. It was still dangerous to be a Christian – especially a Christian minister in those days. Yet, the love of Christ for St. Valentine compelled him, like the Leper, to keep talking about Jesus. The Roman authorities must have ordered him several times to be quiet about his faith, to stop practicing and proclaiming it to the imperial city of Rome, and yet he would not be silenced. He was compelled by the love Jesus had for him and the love, he in return, had for Jesus.
Although we may not be at risk of imprisonment or persecution like St. Valentine, we are at risk of ridicule or scorn for being different – a believing people – in an age of skeptics. The only power that can move us beyond fear of ridicule or rejection for our faith is love. Only when we feel Jesus reaching and healing those parts of us that make us feel like a failure or unworthy, excluded, will we be moved to share our faith in society. Like the leper – the outcast – we need to take the step of praying; being on our knees in humility, trusting that Jesus both can and will make us whole, not at a safe distance, but by lovingly reaching into our very being and joining it with his. Only when our faith comes from that place of being loved by Jesus can we be moved to share it.
Almighty God, by love you cast out all fear and heal our wounded spirits. Make us faithful witnesses to that love, being strengthened to follow the way of the cross and share the triumph of Christ’s resurrection with all who long for wholeness; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.