The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany (2/15/2009)

The Power of New Beginnings

Lessons:     2 Kings 5:1-14     Psalm 30     1st Corinthians 9:24-27     St. Mark 1:40-45

Prayer of the Day:     Almighty and ever-living God, with mercy you look upon our weaknesses. Stretch out your wondrous hand to protect us from danger and restore us to health, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

1:40 A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, "If you choose, you can make me clean." 41 Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, "I do choose. Be made clean!" 42 Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, 44 saying to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." 45 But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.

St. Mark 1:40-45 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

First century religious life, at least from a Jewish perspective, had much to do with drawing lines - lines that separated the faithful from the unfaithful - lines that protected the faithful from being defiled by their surroundings. So the Jewish people obeyed laws and traditions that were intended to guard them from foreigners, from impure foods, from unsafe behavior, and from diseases. Among the diseases that threatened Israel in those days was the dreaded skin condition leprosy.

Leprosy is a devastating disease: it usually begins with painful skin ulcers, and can lead to paralysis, gangrene, and even amputation. But even more frightening, leprosy can be highly contagious. So in the first century, lepers were removed from society. Once declared unclean by the local priest, they were compelled to live outside the city limits, and to keep their distance from people. They were required to call out a warning (often yelling, "Unclean! Unclean!") whenever others happened near them. It was a painfully lonely and humiliating life. Occasionally a leper would recover, and after examination by the priest (and after offering the appropriate sacrifice), be admitted back to society. But most of them lived out the rest of their life in isolation, separated from all they knew and loved.

It is one of these lepers who stands at the center of this week's Gospel lesson. He had been declared unclean. He had been removed from his family, his home, and his work. He was most likely living with other lepers beyond the edge of town. As Jesus and his companions passed by him, this leper broke the law. Instead of warning them away, calling: Unclean! Unclean! as they approached, he came to Jesus, and begged for help. It was a bold move, and hints at the desperation he must have felt.

We know how Jesus was supposed to respond: he should have sent the man away, before Jesus and his traveling companions were all rendered unclean by coming too close to him. But that is not what Jesus did. He too broke the law. Filled with compassion, he touched the man (He touched the man!). And with a word he made him clean. Why did Jesus do that?

The answer to that question lies in the 40th verse, and the leper's request to Jesus. Interestingly enough, the leper didn't ask Jesus to make him well. He asked Jesus to make him "clean." He didn't just want better skin - he wanted to be restored to his life again. He wanted to live with his own family. He wanted to eat at his own table, and sleep in his own bed. He wanted to go back to his own office, and get back to his own work. Leprosy had taken all of that away. But he believed that the power in Jesus could give it back to him. He believed that Jesus could not only make him well, but could also make him "clean" - undo the declaration that some priest had laid upon him, and restore him to life and health and wholeness again.

Isn't that just what the ministry of Jesus is all about? Not many of us battle leprosy or other dangerously contagious diseases. But the brokenness of this world can hem us in today in ways that are just as painful. When relationships deteriorate, when health declines, when dreams are crushed, when disappointment and failure reign, the ministry of Jesus has the ability to lift us up, to make us clean, and to give us a new start. May that power touch our lives. And may it move through us, and our congregations, to touch others - that they too might know the joy of living in the presence of our God, who brings us healing and hope

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week's Text:

  1. What were the physical, social, and emotional effects of leprosy in the first century?
  2. Why did Jesus respond compassionately to this man's request?
  3. How did the healing touch of Jesus change this man's life? What was his reaction?

Connecting with This Week's Text:

  1. Where is the pain in my life, that I wish God might touch and heal?
  2. How have I experienced God's healing and renewing presence in the past?
  3. For whom might I be a vehicle of healing and renewal?