The Gospels are filled with stories of Jesus healing lepers, blind men, and even raising from the dead. Much has been made of these over the years, especially the purpose of the miracles, or even the validity of their claim. In our post-modern world, it is normal to ask: Did Jesus really heal these people? Did this really happen?
To me that is the wrong question. When you look beyond the text and into the historical and literary context of the story, it makes much more sense and holds much more power than simply “is it fact or fiction.” Stories can hold truth or power without being seen as literal. So to me it doesn’t not matter whether or not it actually happened. I am more interested in what the miracle is telling me.
It is clear that Jesus was a rabble rouser. He was one who transcended boundaries. Think about it! Think about today’s story in Mark where Jesus heals a leper. This was written in a time when touching a leper was clearly out of line. Jesus is breaking the law. More importantly, Jesus doesn’t care. He is more interested in transcending or even breaking boundaries, prejudices, antiquated religious traditions, and obsolete customs.
He chooses to embrace this afflicted man. He touches the untouchable. Time after time Jesus does this. He welcomes sinners, invites tax collectors to be among his inner circle of disciples, and absolves women who committed adultery.
He is not interested in judging. He is interested in welcoming, forgiving, and healing tired souls.
Oh how the church of today needs the same healing touch. Oh how desperately we need to be cured of our prejudices, of our sexism, our ageism, our homophobia, our fear of Muslims or simply our discomfort with the “different”. We need to be cured of our hatred, propensity to violence, and our temptation to listen to those who shout the loudest and play off our fear of those different than we.
This story is not about Jesus curing someone of leprosy, but of our need to be cured of ourselves.
He is also a model of behavior, and how we need to embrace the untouchables in our society. It is not enough to welcome them into our churches, but to embrace them as equals. That is a whole different level of hospitality. This is why the church grew. It is how the 21st Century Church will grow. But we need Jesus to touch us again.
What’s the real power in this story? Jesus doesn’t just heal. These people become converts. They see the world in a different way. When are we going to get around to seeing the Gospel – the good news for us?
We follow a radical. He welcomes and embraces all. Sinners, lepers – all. No exceptions. He treats everyone he meets with dignity and respect, and calls us as well to break down walls of prejudice, fear, and hate.
He calls us to live beyond our own comfort zone, and practice radical welcome, embracing others as equals. He calls us beyond ourselves.