HOMILY & IDEAS

Leviticus 13, 1-2, 44-46; 1 Cor 10:31-11:1; Mark 1:40-45.

Turning Over Stones

Here are some stones I have overturned to see what ideas are underneath. I hope you can grab hold of something, pull -- and discover that it has some homiletic roots for you.

A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said -- If you wish, you can make me clean.

Where this miracle occurs is not certain. The last city identified in this chapter from the Gospel of Mark is Capernaum. From there Jesus and his disciples traveled to nearby villages -- to their synagogues -- and all over the region of Galilee. The region of Galilee, the northern part of Palestine, is approximately 900 square miles with the Jezreel Valley to the south, the Sea of Galilee to the east, Lebanon to the north and the Plain of Acre to the west. It is comprised of broad valleys, very fertile soil, numerous springs and green pastures making the economy in this region prosperous. The region of Galilee includes such towns and cities as Nazareth, Tiberias, and Cana.

A bit about leprosy: Today leprosy is separated into a few different categories: Tubercular Leprosy, Anesthetic Leprosy, or a combination of both. With as long as a nine year span of deterioration,Tubercular Leprosy produces a mass of ulcerated growths over the entire body ending in mental degeneration, coma and ultimately death. Anesthetic Leprosy causes the loss of neurological sensation, muscular atrophy, ulcerations of the hands and feet, and widespread infection resulting in the progressive loss of fingers, toes and even limbs. Anesthetic Leprosy may spread steadily over a period of twenty to thirty years. One can only imagine the fate of an individual who contracted the combination of these types of leprosy. However, regardless of type, lepers were ejected from all social interaction in the world of the clean. They were despised by some, feared by many, and pitied by the compassionate.

Over 3000 words comment on the disease in the Book of Leviticus (chapters 13 & 14) and it is there where we read that lepers shall cry out -- Unclean! unclean! -- and dwell apart, making their abode outside the camp. In short, they are the outcasts of all outcasts in society. After contracting leprosy one must leave family, friends, livelihood, and way of life. It was, in a sense, the death of all familiar bonds and intimacy.

The leper had no right to approach Jesus let alone speak to him. However, his posture is submissive, in his tone is the sound of a desperate plea for a healing, and his few, simple words speak volumes about his faith in Jesus -- If you wish, you CAN make me clean.

Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him -- I do will it. Be made clean. The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean

One assumes that Jesus was often moved with pity during his ministry; however it is only spelled out on a handful of occasions for us: Preceding the feeding of the 5000, when faced with the troubled, the abandoned, the sick, when stirred by 2 blind men, when crossing paths with the widow of Nain, and here -- face to face with a leper.

The pity of Jesus always causes him to do extraordinary things and in this circumstance it is no different. Perhaps the only thing more startling than an unclean person publicly and intentionally approaching a clean person is for that clean person to then deliberately reach out and touch he who is unclean.

According to the laws regarding leprosy in Leviticus, he who comes into contact with the unclean will become unclean himself. However, the glorious healing power of Jesus manifested through seven spoken words and an outstretched hand inverts this concept -- and now the unclean who touches the clean becomes clean himself. The effect is immediate and extraordinary. He who was cast out of society may now begin his journey back.

Then warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. He said to him -- See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.

Jesus knows that the journey back into society requires a ritual cleansing overseen by the priest and so he orders the man to waste no time in beginning this process.

The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere.

The man is unable to contain the exhilaration his healing has brought and so he tells everyone he meets about his miraculous meeting with Jesus.

Ironically, he who was once unclean can now enter the camp and make his abode amidst the clean while Jesus who is abundantly stainless is forced to remain outside in deserted places.

HOMILY: Although we do not suffer from a physical leprosy on the outside, we may suffer a spiritual or a sinful leprosy on the inside. Is there something in our lives that we are carrying around with us that keeps us unclean and made to feel unworthy to be full and active members in our community? Is there something so hideous to look at or touch that we can not fathom letting Jesus touch it? After all, Jesus is the Messiah, the Holy One of God, the Savior and the unblemished Lamb of God. However, our Jesus is also the Jesus in this parable who is moved with pity, who wills to heal and who outstretches his hand to touch what is thought to be untouchable. If Jesus is unafraid to touch our deepest, darkest hurts and impurities, then let us not hide them. Just as the leper approached Jesus with faith and humility; let us also approach Jesus for our healing.

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