June 30-July 1, 2012
Today we begin a special summer series of messages looking at Jesus’ miracles.
Not all of Jesus’ miracles…
Just the ones from the gospel of Mark.
And not even all of Jesus’ miracles in the gospel of Mark…
Just 10 of them.
It turns out that although all of the gospels share stories of Jesus’ miracles,
the gospel of Mark is packed full of them.
There are about 20 of them, all told.
Miracles were rather common in the ancient world.
Jesus wasn’t the only miracle worker.
Apparently there were all sorts of people who could perform miracles, back in the day.
There were Jewish miracle workers,
and pagan miracle workers.
Some were good miracle workers, and there were some bad ones too.
So in the gospel of Mark, when Jesus performs a miracle,
Mark seems to point out how he was a miracle worker – that was different from other miracle workers.
He was an odd miracle worker.
Mark actually has Jesus unable or even unwilling to perform miracles at certain times.
In one case, he even has to perform a miracle twice to get it right. [i]
Jesus’ miracles put him into conflict.
He’s in conflict with the authorities,
his own family (which thinks he’s crazy), and of course the power of evil.
So, Jesus is an odd kind of miracle worker, in the way he’s described in Mark’s gospel.
And maybe that’s one question we can ask ourselves as we hear these stories this summer….
How does this particular miracle make Jesus seem different – odd even?
Let’s turn to today’s miracle.
It’s a miracle of healing – but strangely enough the word healing never occurs in this story.
So we turn back to the biblical account.
A man who has a skin disease comes to Jesus.
We’re told he has leprosy,
but it could have been anything – psoriasis, vitiligo –
any skin disease that can create white patches on the skin.
Since no one could tell these diseases apart, they were grouped together
and the word ‘leprosy’ was used to describe all of them.
Every summer when I get patches of dry skin
on my knuckles and elbows I am reminded that
to many, this would have looked an awful lot like leprosy.
I wonder what I would have done without steroid cream.
I probably would at first try to hide it…
I’d wear long-sleeved robes which would cover my arms.
I’d live in desperate fear that someone would notice and turn me in.
And where would they turn me in?
To the priest of all people!
The priest would make the most important decision in my life –
he would say whether I could stay in my community or be banished, forced to beg – and branded “unclean.”
I’d have to ring a bell if anyone approached to warn them,
So, the man with the skin disease comes to Jesus,
falls down on his knees in front of him,
and begs him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.”
There’s something powerful and also something disturbing about that statement.
First of all, the man’s hope in Jesus is extraordinarily powerful.
A grown man gets down on the ground and pleads with Jesus!
A man who probably has children or even grandchildren of his own,
stoops to his knees, prostrates himself,
in front of another man.
That is a powerful act of humility and faith.
But what I find disturbing is that little phrase – those three words –that come before it.
“If you choose.”
“If you choose, you can make me clean.”
Would Jesus ever not choose?
What made the man say it in that way?
Had he seen Jesus healing some people and not others?
It’s disturbing and yet isn’t it also the reality we experience far too often!
We beg and plead for physical healing,
yet know that sometimes that cure does not come.
We add in our prayers, ‘If it is your will,’
all the while wondering with our small very human minds,
why a caring God would ever choose not to bring a cure…
why healing would not be God’s will all the time!
Each of us is left to reconcile the mystery
of why a loving God might sometimes not bring about cure.
There are no answers to that great mystery of life in this text.
Here, Jesus says he does choose.
He tells the man “Be made clean.”
It’s not until after some great emotion stirred up in Jesus, however.
Our text says he was moved with compassion.
Other texts say he was moved with anger – he was ticked off!
The man’s words
or his posture
or his disease
or his face filled with longing
or his frightened family standing at a distance
or his former friends yelling at him to stay away…
something happened, something there, moved Jesus,
and he says, “I do choose. Be made clean.”
Be made clean.
Being made clean meant so much more to the man than healing did…
Because I would suggest that going through life feeling ‘unclean’
is a lot worse than going through life feeling ‘sick.’
Saying ‘I am sick,’ brings compassion and care.
Saying “I am unclean,” brings avoidance and disgust.
If you have never felt unclean…you are lucky.
Ask anyone who has a visibly disfiguring or disabling disease.
They know what it’s like to feel ‘unclean.’
They know what it means to have people avoid them,
or be afraid of looking at them or even afraid to touch them.
What is it like to feel unclean?
Ask the child of an alcoholic.
He knows what it’s like to listen to the whispers of others
or to make excuses for his father
and explain to the adults why he’s always the last one to picked up from practice.
What is it like to feel unclean?
Ask a new widow.
She knows what it’s like to no longer be invited to dinner with other couples
because she’s suffered the death of a spouse
and it makes them uncomfortable because they don’t know what to say.
What is it like to feel unclean?
Ask a man who has lost his job.
In a culture where we are often defined not by who we are, but by what we do,
he stops socializing with others, because the first question is so often, “What do you do?” and there’s an awkward silence.
The shame of feeling unclean runs deep.
And so here’s why I think a better translation of the phrase, “Jesus was moved with compassion,”
is “Jesus was ticked off.”
I think it’s a better translation because I think Jesus was ticked off!!!
Jesus was ticked off that humans could treat other humans this way.
Jesus was ticked off that people who have been loved and created by God could
ever feel that they were somehow less than that.
Jesus sees the man, knows he feels unclean,
is ticked off that a child of his could feel such shame,
and declares, “I do choose. Be made clean.”
Jesus is more than the other miracle workers.
He goes beyond the ordinary.
For this man, he knows ordinary healing is not enough.
Jesus chooses to make him clean and sends him to the priest to bear witness to the miracle.
I don’t know if Jesus did anything special,
or if just the words made it happen…
But know this,
you have been made clean.
All of you.
Whether you’re the one with the disfiguring or disabling disease or the caregiver.
Whether you’re the alcoholic or the child of the alcoholic.
Whether you’re the widow or the spouse who is dying.
Whether you’re the man who’s lost a job or the one who has reluctantly retired.
Jesus is ticked off that you or people you know act as if you are somehow unclean.
That they would avoid you; ignore you; forget about you; not value you.
You have been made clean!
Claim the baptism that has been given to you.
Those waters promising cleansing and rebirth which were poured over baby Charlotte Aurelia last night have also been poured over you.
You may never be completely indefinitely physically cured of whatever ailment you have – the leper and everyone else that Jesus healed got sick again at some point in their life —
but just as you are – you have been made completely clean – and that will last beyond your lifetime.
What an odd miracle worker we have!