98. What Christ Wants (Mark 1:40-45)
“How merciful the Lord Jesus is towards us, how abundantly kind and good!” - St. Cyprian
Mark 1:40-45: A leper came to him and pleaded on his knees: ‘If you want to’ he said ‘you can cure me.’ Feeling sorry for him, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. ‘Of course I want to!’ he said. ‘Be cured!’ And the leprosy left him at once and he was cured. Jesus immediately sent him away and sternly ordered him, ‘Mind you say nothing to anyone, but go and show yourself to the priest, and make the offering for your healing prescribed by Moses as evidence of your recovery.’ The man went away, but then started talking about it freely and telling the story everywhere, so that Jesus could no longer go openly into any town, but had to stay outside in places where nobody lived. Even so, people from all around would come to him.
Christ the Lord Leprosy was widespread and incurable at the time of Jesus. Besides being highly contagious, this bacterial skin infection produces paralysis, nauseating deformities such as the wasting away of fingers, facial features, and entire limbs, and a revolting stench (akin to rotting flesh). Ancient societies gathered lepers into “colonies” isolated from other occupied centers. They required anyone suffering from the disease to stay a hundred yards away from noninfected people and carry a bell, which could be rung to avert a close encounter with the healthy.
Lepers thus lived in isolation, filth, and poverty until the disease progressed sufficiently to cause their death. It was (and still is) a powerful analogy for sin, which is a widespread, contagious disease with similar effects on the spiritual plane: it isolates people from one another, causes deformities in character and understanding, and yields a moral stench unbearable to one’s own conscience and the consciences of others. It also leads to death – spiritual death – and at the time of Christ, it too was incurable.
When Christ looks upon this leper and cures him with the mere touch of his hand, he manifests not only his astonishing power over the physical cosmos, but also the ultimate reason behind his coming to earth: to return the outcast hearts of mankind to a living communion with God by taking away our sins. Jesus Christ is the saving Lord of lepers and sinners – if only we kneel before him with faith.
Christ the Teacher What if this leper had been afraid to come to Jesus? What if he had fearfully remained in his isolation, afraid to come out in the open with his sickness, afraid to break with social protocol and kneel at the Master’s feet? He would have stayed stuck in his gruesome affliction. The first lesson, then, consists in admitting our need for help, coming to know that we are infected by sin and sinful tendencies, and that we need to be healed of this spiritual disease. Since (with the devil’s help) we have become experts in muffling our conscience, however, we can easily convince ourselves that we don’t really need God. But if that were the case, why would Christ have come to earth?
This holy leper also teaches us two secrets to effective prayer: confidence and humility. He has no doubt that Christ can cure him: “If you want to, you can cure me.” But he also knows that he has no right to demand a cure; he doesn’t say, “Cure me!” He says, “If you want to…” (i.e., “you know what will be best for me and for your Kingdom; if curing me will give you glory, please do so, but if not, I will still believe and trust in you.”) Confidence and humility unleash the roaring flood of power and compassion that streams from the heart of God: “Feeling sorry for him…”
If our prayer weaves together a healthy awareness of our need for God’s grace and assistance, a real confidence in his power and love, and the elegance of humility, God will be able to do wonders in us as well.
Christ the Friend Few phenomena are as disgusting as leprosy in its advanced stages. Thus, when Christ responds to this man’s plea by stretching out his hand and actually touching him, he shows a love that’s real, that comes to meet us in the absolute depths of our human misery. God wants to be with us, so that he can raise us up to be with him.
When he orders the cured leper to keep the incident under wraps and go present himself to the priests, who performed a special ceremony to verify a cure from leprosy, Christ shows that his love is also sincere. It was concern and compassion for this man’s suffering that moved him to perform the miracle, not a thirst for fame and recognition (although these inevitably followed). Christ’s love is real, it is sincere – it is the love of a friend we can count on no matter what.
Jesus: Many people are suffering from invisible leprosy, a leprosy of the soul. They consider themselves outcasts, and although on the surface they appear to be just like everyone else, inside they slowly disintegrating, slowly being consumed by regret, guilt, confusion, sorrow. You know how pure my love is, how powerful. You have welcomed it and experienced it, and you have let my grace touch your heart. Tell these others about it. Convince them to let me touch them, to come to me. I long to save them.
Christ in My Life Lord, thank you for coming to save me from my sin. Thank you for creating and redeeming me, for giving me the gift of faith, and for drawing me closer to you every day. All the good that I have received is your gift, Lord. Why do I still fret and fear? Why do I doubt your love? Forgive my fearful heart, my selfish tantrums. With the Kingdom of your heart, reign in my heart…
I am short on both humility and confidence. I believe, but my faith is weak. I know that without you I can do nothing, but I spend most of my time acting like I can do it all on my own. Have mercy on me, Lord. Teach me the great lesson of humility. Grant me the peace of soul that comes from living in the palm of your hand…
I am amazed at the depth and delicacy of your love. Teach me to love as you love. It is beyond my power. Teach me to reach out to my neighbor, to recognize their needs, to care about them. Tear away the blinders of selfishness that hinder me from building your Kingdom. With the love of your heart, inflame my heart!…
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