The Man With Leprosy

15/02/2015 ()

Bible Text: Mark 1: 40-45 |

These stories that we have been listening to over the past few weeks all come from the very first chapter of Mark’s gospel. The Baptism and the Temptation of Jesus begins his ministry, then the calling of his first disciples, and then these early stories each one of which is setting part of the scene telling us who Jesus is and what his ministry was about… He taught in the synagogues and people were amazed at his teaching, at the authority with which he taught, and at the authority with which he cast out evil spirits and healed people… and through the whole thing are these comments about how the news of Jesus spread everywhere and how Jesus tried to put a lid on it; Mark 1: 28 “News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee”; Mark 1: 32 “That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door,”; Mark 1: 34 “he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was”; Mark 1: 37 “Everyone is looking for you!” (this after Jesus had got up early in the dark and gone to a solitary place to pray..); and then here in this story, “..he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.”

Jesus tried to ‘put a lid on things’ because the mass reaction and mobbing of the people prevented him very early on from just entering a town and ministering quietly to people as he found them; it hindered him from being able to withdraw quietly in retreat to pray and be with His Father, the crowds were always looking for him, always waiting for him, always mobbing him….

because Jesus was compelling, his love and compassion for them was compelling, they had never experienced this before.. a teacher who cared about them… and who not only prayed with them, he actually healed them…he actually had the power from God to answer their requests..

And so the scene is set for this story.. “news about him spread quickly over the whole region…” The man with leprosy had heard about Jesus and what he had heard makes him defy all social and religious law when it came to leprosy and approach Him…

In the book of Leviticus in the Old Testament, the Law stipulates that “Any person with a serious skin disease (such as leprosy) is ritually unclean. That person must live alone; he or she must live outside the community, and call out ‘unclean, unclean’ whenever anyone approaches...

This man is physically unclean, spiritually unclean also according to their Law and normally no one would go anywhere near him. The nature of his disease means that he cannot worship with the people of God or mix freely with any social group, that was Jewish law… and yet he comes to Jesus… all that he has heard about Jesus convinces him that Jesus will not reject him. We don’t know exactly where Jesus was when the man approached him but it would have been a public place. The same story in Luke 5 tells us that Jesus was in one of the towns when the man came to him and so he took an incredible risk coming to Jesus but he was desperate…

In our OT reading today we hear the story of the healing of Naaman the Syrian. You might remember Jesus, in the Synagogue one Sabbath declaring ; Luke 4: 27 "And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian."  Luke 4: 28 And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things’.. because Jesus was saying that God hadn’t healed any of the local lepers, only this one foreigner. So, before Jesus came, the people weren’t all that used to people being healed. It didn’t happen very often but this man with leprosy was convinced that Jesus had that power…

He came to Jesus begging , and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” It is a most extraordinary declaration of faith formulated from what he has heard about this man. He has no doubt, no doubt whatever, that Jesus can do it, but he is not sure that Jesus will do it…the question is whether he is willing, whether he chooses to heal him

“Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean.” Jesus chooses to heal him and reaches out and touches him which would make him ritually unclean as well but he doesn’t give a twat about that… by touching him he declares to this man that he is loved and important in God’s eyes ...

This man had absolute faith that Jesus could heal him, he was not so sure whether he would choose to.. and this confronts us in our lives and in our prayers every day…

When something happens in our lives that we can’t understand, how much we trust in the character of God will push us one way or the other… towards God or away from him. I have heard many times from people that when someone close to them died they don’t know how they would have got through without their faith, without God… and I’ve heard others say that they stopped believing in God when a certain event happened in their lives ..

If we trust God, that He is love, that he is good and that he cares for us, we hold on to Him even when we can’t understand what he is doing. If we doubt that he is good or that he loves us all, then when something happens our faith waivers.. trust comes from knowing someone..

So how do we really know that God is good? That God loves us all? We can understand why people doubt when someone they love, who may be a committed Christian person, is taken from them or is suffering…

Tragic things, bad things as we say can happen to ‘good’ people, they happen to the good and the bad (and we’ve seen a lot of that over the last few months), to Christians and non-believers and people of all faiths and ideologies…

” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5: 44-45)

People have said to me, “I know God doesn’t answer every prayer…” and it is said with faith and sincerity because that’s our reality, sometimes he chooses to and sometimes he doesn’t or so it seems.. but I am certain that God hears every prayer and that is an important distinction.. sometimes we can’t even put together any words, it is just a cry of pain.. he hears every longing, every cry, every thought… Micah 7:7 says; “But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Saviour;  my God will hear me.” God hears us when we pray… but he doesn’t always give us what we ask for…

Just before my Renato passed away I said to his sister: “If something happens to Renato, then I will never trust in God’s love again”… I remember saying to God: “you don’t love me, if you loved me this would never have happened” … yet, for all that, I held on to Him even though I was angry, hurt and grieving, somehow I knew that he is love and that he is good, not just because the Bible tells me so, but because I have experienced that in life, I have seen it all around us… I have seen God do amazing things… I still don’t know why He took Renato but I trust Him, we must trust in the character of God…

This man in our story, broken and not really living life just surviving, comes to Jesus believing that there is hope… with a trust that defies all logic really.. to a man he has only heard about, who is as far as he knows a religious teacher and they do not go near anything or anyone unclean and, even though he is certain that Jesus can heal him, he is not even sure that he will…

The Roman centurion said to Jesus "Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.”… just, say the word…

The man with leprosy, the woman with the constant bleeding who touched Jesus’ cloak … they had suffered for many years, they would have felt total hopelessness until they heard of Jesus. Many of these people came to Jesus never having met him before but there was something about him which was compelling and which they inherently trusted… and I guess that’s how we come to Jesus too… not sure if he will answer our prayer as we ask it but knowing that he hears us, that he loves us and has compassion and that we can trust him with what is going on in our lives and with those we love. I have learnt it is not because he doesn’t care… we have a God who cares about everything and everyone.

A friend once said to me many years ago, “if I was God, I would do things differently, I wouldn’t allow all these things to happen, I would answer people’s prayers”, and I thought about that and said, “no, if you were God you would do exactly the same things, because if you were God you would see all that He sees, and know all that He knows and you would make the same decisions…” Ultimately God is Sovereign and He is wise. We can be sure that God is not capricious, as the Greek gods were renowned for being – behaving according to how they felt on the day… bit like us really..! We don’t always understand what God is doing, but we trust in who he is.

When the angel Gabriel came to Zechariah, doing his priestly duties in the temple, with the message that he and Elizabeth would have a son – who would be John the Baptist – the angel said, “do not be afraid, your prayer has been answered”… Zechariah must have thought ‘which prayer was that?’ From Zechariah’s response – ‘how can I be sure that this is really going to happen, we’re a little old now!!’ – it is clear that he had not prayed that prayer for a very long time, probably more than 20 or 30 years…! And yet Gabriel just says, ‘your prayer has been answered!’ Sometimes we just have to leave things with God… we don’t always understand what He is doing, but we trust in his character, in who he is….trust comes from knowing someone and we know God is Love, God is light and God is good.

We don’t always win the battle, we go thru suffering, we often don’t understand what God is doing, sometimes it doesn’t seem like he is doing anything, but we have the certainty of knowing, because of the coming of Jesus among us, because of the heart of Jesus that reflects the heart of God the Father, that God hears every prayer and that he cares...

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