Bless his heart; the author of Mark’s Gospel seems to have made Jesus out to be a game show host in today’s lesson. Jesus has become the ancient day Bob Barker and this is the showcase showdown. The leper has hedged his bets on stating the facts and Jesus, who has just returned from a time of personal prayer born out of exhaustion from numerous healings and teaching sessions is left to make a choice.
It wasn’t a question or a request; when the leper approached Jesus and said “If you choose you can make me clean” he was stating a fact. Last week we heard about legions of the sick and ailing coming to Jesus to be healed. Everyone seems to know that Jesus has this power. They come to him in droves and ask to be made well. But this man, this beggar, comes to Jesus –falls on his knees- and merely states the facts…
“if you choose you can make me clean.”
Jesus was exhausted from the healing and teaching already performed on this visit. He just wants to be left alone… but this poor leper is clearly even more exhausted from what has likely been years of abandonment, isolation, and illness. He just wants a second chance.
According to Mark, Jesus had to think about it. He stood on the road and knew he could choose door number 1 or door number 2. If he sent the leper through door number 1 there would be a brand new life waiting with possibility and hope that comes from being loved, being touched, and being accepted: if Jesus chose door number 2 the leper would be sent on his way, in the same painful, hopeless condition he was in at that moment.
Jesus stood before this beggar and was “moved by pity”… but what if Jesus wasn’t moved? What if the beggar didn’t sound needy enough? What if Jesus was having a bad day and decided he didn’t feel like healing. And I don’t think there is anyone in this room who thinks Jesus even considered saying no. Of Course he said yes! But Jesus did have a choice and the fact that Jesus had a choice is what makes this story so painful when we pay attention to the details.
If Jesus had a choice then this story begs the question: Why doesn’t Jesus heal us all? Why doesn’t Jesus heal us of our ailments, afflictions, and addictions everyday? Why doesn’t Jesus choose to heal me?
If you’ve got the answer to that question then I definitely want to talk to you after the service because there isn’t a person in history –as far as I can tell- aside from Christ himself who could answer it. And if Jesus could answer it, I assure you, he didn’t… at least not in the pages of scripture.
We can point to the redemptive love poured out on the cross as the ultimate healing and sanctification for all of humanity, but in our daily struggles that we cry, pray, and crawl our way through… where is Jesus in those?
It is a painful and impossible question. If we sit in the endless cycle of wondering why Jesus heals some but not all we will waste our entire lives. We live in a world of immediate gratification. And it’s not just today… if we go back to the lesson from 2 Kings we find Naaman who didn’t want to go to the river and wash… he wanted to be healed now. Moving to the modern day: If we want to know any small detail about this or that we can turn to the Internet and have it at our fingertips. In the course of a generation we have gone from hand-written notes in the mail to emails that arrive instantly. We want it now, and if our healing doesn’t arrive instantly and in the form we desire then its not healing at all. Or is it?
When I was in Myanmar last year I had the opportunity to visit the Leprosy Hospital there. The Christians in the region run the hospital: all denominations working together to make the hospital possible. There is no other place for them to go in the entire country. While we were touring the hospital I noticed a small, blue sign in the window of one of the offices that read: “We treat, God heals.” It was a simple placard, very small and easily missed… but the message was the most profound that I encountered that day and maybe even on my whole trip. I have spent a lot of time thinking about it.
We saw nurses bathing the patients, a man building wheel chairs out of scraps from old chairs that would have been in a junk pile in the US, // we saw people who were shunned everywhere else being held in love. Their leprosy was not miraculously cured; but they were healed.
There is a difference between being cured and being healed. Being cured is a physical departure of disease. Being healed is when we are once again “made whole” in our spirit. Being healed has a spiritual and emotional side that is separate from the physical ailment. So often when we approach God in our prayers for healing it is actually a cure we are seeking. We want the physical ailment relieved so that we can go on with our lives and if that physical cure is not offered we lament at the lack of “healing in our lives.” What if we were able to approach the cross with desire for healing rather than a physical cure? // Now, I know this is easy for me to say as I stand up here in relatively good physical health. It’s an incredibly difficult question and I don’t mean to imply that it is not. But what is we were able to look to the cross and recognize the healing offered in this world and toward the cure offered in the next?
Healing implies a serenity of spirit that exists regardless of the physical or mental ailments that plague us. // Sometimes a miraculous cure comes along with the healing; but those miracles are not as frequent as the mending of souls.
When things get really rough, when the trials of life seem impossible to bear we are socialized to put our “noses to the grind stone,” flip up those blinders, and just get through. It isn’t until the situation is desperate that we turn to Christ to ask for relief. We can “do it all on our own.”
Over the last couple of Sundays we have heard of hoards of people running to Jesus seeking a touch to make them well. So many people were clinging to Jesus that last week we heard about the disciples searching for Jesus in the morning because he had seemed to disappear, they got all nervous and went to search for him. But he was just off on his own praying to God, His Father in heaven, so that he could find the strength to do it all over again.
We hear these stories and then we go home wondering why Jesus doesn’t make us clean. Or, more accurately, we hear these stories and then we go back to our daily lives forgetting that Jesus really performed these miracles. We go back to our lives. Hearing the radical news of Jesus Christ should make it impossible to return to our daily lives. Believing in the miracles of Jesus should transform our hearts daily making our lives new. //
For Adelaide and Lindsey whom we baptized here today, their parents made an important choice: a choice to turn to the cross. And all of us here today have promised to help Adelaide and Lindsey as they grow in the stature of Christ: we’ve promised to direct them to the cross, to pray for Christ to make them whole when they have difficult times in their lives. And I don’t think there is one of us out there who thinks that Jesus might say ‘no.’
The point of Mark’s story is: the beggar went to Jesus. Everyone else turned away. Every other treatment failed. All other hope was lost. There was nothing left to lose, the worst that could happen was for Jesus to say “no.” That is what we are afraid of: that Jesus will say, “You’re right, if I chose I could make you clean. But I chose not to.” Can you imagine? // We are terrified that will be the response. So we go through our lives believing that the stories are nice, but we will take care of the day-to-day things on our own.
The healing offered to us today is not a cure for physical disease (although miracles do happen, and I pray for one in your life) – the healing offered to us today is available if we open our hearts to the radically, life altering power of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. The healing is offered when we accept kindness from our neighbors, when we go to a healing service and have hands laid on us, when we step outside of ourselves to lend a hand.
The healing is offered when we, like the beggar, fall to our knees in front of the the cross and say, “if you chose you can make me well.” Falling to our knees is symbolic of an opening of our hearts to the healing that is perpetually offered if we are only willing to believe and receive.