From Pastor Kenny's Desk
February 11, 2018
A person with leprosy approached Jesus, knelt down and begged, “If you are willing, you can heal me.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out a hand, touched the person with leprosy and said, “I am willing. Be cleansed.”
Immediately the leprosy disappeared, and the person with the disease was cured. Jesus gave a stern warning and sent the person off. “Not a word to anyone,” Jesus said. “Go off and present yourself to the priest and make an offering for your healing as Moses commanded, as a testimony to the religious authorities.”
But the person who had been healed went off and began to proclaim the whole matter freely, making the story public. As a result it was no longer possible for Jesus to enter a town openly, and Jesus stayed in lonely places. Even so, people kept coming to him from all directions. Mark 1:40-45
If you had only four words to describe Jesus, what words would you choose? In fact, why don't you do just that ... before reading any further, write down the four words that most seem to capture Jesus and then think about why those words are important to you. Don't worry, this isn't a right or wrong kind of exercise, it's more of a chance to explore what attributes about Jesus are most important to you.
When you're done, go back and read the above passage from Mark again. Because right there you'll find the message of his whole Gospel story in a nutshell. Even more, you'll find what I think are Mark's four words. Again, this isn't a right or wrong exercise, it's just a way of paying attention to Mark's story … a message that still has the capacity to change lives. So here they are:
Compassion: Mark doesn't often relate Jesus' psychological state, but he does here. When Jesus sees this person Jesus approaches and sees the leper’s need … he is immediately moved with compassion. Not judgment: "What have you done to cause this to happen?" Or reprimand: "Stop embarrassing yourself on your knees and, what's more, keep your distance." Or demand: "What will you do with your life if I heal you?" Or any of the countless other responses that were common both then and now to such an appeal. No, Jesus just feels compassion. This is Jesus, keep in mind … the Beloved One, the Word made flesh, the Holy One of God. And so, this is also God: not primarily judgmental, tough, self-centered or demeaning, but compassionate.
Touch: There is an intimacy to touch that we can take for granted. Ask the elderly, the ill, the depressed, or the isolated just how rare and beautiful human touch is and you may be surprised … or maybe just reminded … that there are few gestures as profound, loving, and healing as human touch. Jesus could have healed with a word, with a gesture, or with a command, but instead he reaches out to touch the person with leprosy. Here too, is God's character revealed as we discover a God eager to be in relationship with us that God takes on our form and flesh, assumes our reality and our life, so that God can reach out to touch us in love.
Willing: Jesus does more than simply respond to the man's plea; he affirms the person’s deepest hope that, though riddled with leprosy the person still has value, dignity, worth … this person is a child of God. Here we are again greeted or perhaps even confronted by God's often surprising and uncontrollable mercy and grace. God is often far more willing and eager to bless than we are to be blessed.
Lonely: Make no mistake. These acts of mercy, while perhaps free, nevertheless cost Jesus. There is an exchange going on here, as this person, now healed, is also restored to their community, while Jesus can no longer travel freely or even enter the towns anymore. But I want to be careful with words like "cost" and "exchange" … I don't mean that this healing is like some super-power that Jesus must replenish. Rather, what I mean is that love always costs something. We don't know why Jesus asked the person to be silent but maybe it was because he knew this would make it difficult to walk, talk, preach and heal freely. Whatever the reason, and whatever the risk, he nevertheless heals, regardless the cost. He trades places with this person … losing his freedom that this person may find theirs … out of love. Love costs … ask any parent, grandparent, partner, spouse or friend. Yet that is what we find in God.
When you think of images of God what comes to your mind? Often these images are powerful and sometimes unconscious things. How do these images of God describe who we believe God to be and how God is present (or not) in our lives?
How are Mark's and our visions similar? How do they differ? Do you see and experience God as compassionate, loving, touching, willing, lonely, grace-filled, judgmental, harsh, racist, sexist or unkind? Here’s a question: are we willing to consider or even embrace a new image or reality of God? The point, let me be clear, isn't to critique defective images of God … besides, who really imagines God rightly? … the key is: Can we allow ourselves to imagine and affirm an image of God who reaches out to touch us in love … a God who is willing and eager to embrace us in healing, forgiveness and grace; and eagerly embraces the pain and brokenness of the world out of love for us … and ALL people … as well as the world we live in.
What are your four words?