2 Kings 5: 1 -14; Psalm 30; 1 Cor 9: 24 -27: Mark 1: 40 - 45 Oremus Bible Browser

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Old Testament reading and the gospel give us two stories of healing, of the healing of lepers and they’re probably two stories that are quite easy for us to dismiss because the healing of lepers is not part of or related to our every day experience, well, at least not for most of us. The first reading from Kings we’ll come back to. It’s worth noting the characters in it - there’s the commander, the king and the prophet and there’s an interaction between them that’s quite important. But I want to look at Mark’s account, because it’s in Mark’s account of the healing of the lepers that we can start to appreciate the Pentecostal interpretation of scripture. In verse 41 it says, ‘He stretched out his hand and touched him and he was made clean’. And you can see from just that and other examples like it, there’s a Biblical precedent for the laying on of hands. And as we start to think about that and contemplate that then we can see the unfolding of a theology that sees Jesus as a spirit-filled man who works miracles, miracles of healing, and yet I think that’s a shallow interpretation of the narrative that Mark gives us.

Mark gives us something much deeper and much richer and the depth is found in the second part of that reading, verse 44. Jesus says to the cleansed leper: ‘See that you say nothing to anyone’. Jesus does not want to be misunderstood as a wonder-worker; Jesus had no intention of being discovered as a superman with miraculous powers at his disposal. Rather there is much, much more. We’re up to verse 40 - that’s only how far we’ve got in Mark’s Gospel - and we come to this narrative. Previously, in verses 1-39, we found in the synagogue of Capernaum, Jesus was teaching with a new authority - Jesus was teaching with a new authority, something different, something that was not held by the church of the day, but rather something new. But in that teaching he called out an unclean spirit, by word alone, he commanded the spirit to come out of the man. Then we saw that Jesus was invited into Peter’s home, the location moves from synagogue into the home and he cures - or the actual word used was ‘he raises’ - Peter’s mother-in-law. From there he goes out and cures many, following a time of prayer in a deserted place. He moves on, he leaves where he is and moves on to give of himself to others. And then we come to verse 40 and to the narrative we heard this morning.

A leper comes to him, begging and kneeling. There's a complete shift in the movement. The fact that it’s a leper is quite important - we know from Genesis that we, humanity is made in the image of God. Leprosy gives us a very visual appreciation that that image is tarnished - it’s almost an icon of humanity with divine ‘dis-ease’. This is an important narrative in which Mark shows us another aspect of the relationship between Creator and creature, between the Divine and the human. Up until now, Jesus went to, and then we had the Divine activity worked out. Now in this narrative, it is the leper who comes to Jesus. Rather than waiting or expecting God to come to us, to fix, to heal, to make good, perhaps what we see in today’s gospel is that it is us, the We, that needs to approach God, and that approach is to be from the place of where we know our dis-ease, knowing where the Divine in us is decaying.

I think that movement really is quite important and it ties in with the Old Testament reading as well, where we’ve got the commander, the king and the prophet, all of which one could argue, are titles that are given to God and to Christ. And yet the initiation of healing in the Old Testament story came from the servant girl, from the lowest of the low. The commander, the king and the prophet played a part, the initiation came from below and that’s what we really get, that’s what Mark is telling us. I think it’s also the movement - and it sits perfectly, this reading, in the liturgical year, because there’s a shift in the movement, that we are beginning to experience. Christmas is clearly a time where we can contemplate the Divine coming to us: ‘Unto us a child was born’ - a gift was given. As we come to Easter, we see the other side of that story: the fullest giving of Humanity to the Divine. He offered himself upon the cross - they’re different movements - that’s what Mark is bringing to our attention today. And the impact of the leper coming to Jesus is really quite amazing, because we hear in verse 41 that Jesus is moved with pity and stretched out his hand and touched him. What a wonderful contradiction with orthodoxy! We have a God who is immovable and yet here we have a narrative in which the Divine is moved; not only moved, but stirred into action. If we contemplate the few lines of this narrative what we might discover is that our activity can initiate the divine activity. It’s a much more powerful insight that the word-made-flesh, the divine word that speaks creation into being, made flesh, has got the power to initiate divine activity. The implications are far greater and far richer than us either looking for or trying to become a superhuman healing worker. Rather what this says is we can initiate the activity of creation, and it begins with our giving of ourselves.

Verse 45 - it’s amazing that all this is just in those five verses. Verse 45, just if you like, is there to bring us up short because it begins with the word ‘but’. So everything’s going well up until verse 45: the leper comes to Jesus for healing, Jesus heals the leper and says to him ‘say nothing to anyone’, then we get verse 45: ‘But he went out and he began to proclaim it freely and spread the word’. The result of that activity is that Jesus could no longer go into the town openly. How much of the church’s work, past and present, looks like what Mark narrates after the word ‘but’? How much of our own activity is oriented towards proclaiming out there? We can easily point to what is wrong; we can declare quite comfortably what ‘they’ should do to put it right. But as that sentence following ‘but’ says, if we go out and proclaim it freely and spread the word, then what we might well be doing is getting in the way so that Christ can no longer go openly into the town. Maybe we do need to contemplate our activity as Church and as individuals and find out, is it us, is it me, that is getting in the way, keeping the Divine out of the towns and the community in which I live?

The essence of what Mark is saying is that we need, we can, he asks of us, to approach the Divine, knowing that the divine in us is somewhat tarnished, and the difficult thing is the words that Mark uses - the narrative has the leper coming ‘begging and kneeling’. And that’s the tricky part for us to find that place in us where we can approach the Divine, begging and kneeling. Certainly as I contemplated just that part of the narrative and looked for my approach to the Divine that sits with that sentence, the thing that I discovered was just how much of me is not there and how much of me does actually not want to go there. And yet in contemplating it I can also glimpse that there is that place, that that place is there within. Whether I ever get to stand in that place or not we’ll have to wait and see. But imagine or look, just look for it and think what it might be if we can approach the Divine begging and kneeling, offering ourselves fully in such a way that we can initiate and be part of the divine activity that will be the unfolding of creation.

If Mark was using a modern idiom he might well say, ‘for things to change first I must change’. We can take any starting point - there’s one that I put into the sheet this week with a completely different aspect in mind: 800 million people in the world go hungry. The basic needs of health and nutrition for the world’s poorest people, it’s been estimated, could be met with $13 billion. And then the quote that goes with that is that the US has just had a budget for defence submitted that is $439.3 billion. It’s an icon of disease - if ever we want to see leprosy, just look at those two stories and see where the image of God - where Humanity - has now got leprosy. And yet it is not out there, there is nothing evil getting to that point: we have participated in it and somehow that point, that icon, reveals us. Just as the icon of the gospel reveals the divine activity, so our story is revealed in that. We can take that story, bring it back into ourselves and see, ‘what are the shifts that I might make, what is it that I may be creative of?’ We have the capacity within ourselves already - the story of Christmas - to heal the leper; there’s no one else out there that we need to bring about that healing. To realise that gift we go back to the Old Testament reading today and contemplate the servant girl, or we go with Mark’s gospel and contemplate the one with disease who came begging and kneeling. If we can find that place within ourselves and from there make an approach to the Divine, then Heaven will move ………., and we shift the whole balance of power here on earth.

The Lord be with you.

Peter Humphris

Textweek Epiphany 6