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For the last four Sundays, we’ve followed Jesus beginning his ministry in Galilee according to Mark’s Gospel. Mark has a very lively, concrete way of describing Jesus entering fully into the life of our world. He describes Jesus after his baptism going to Galilee, calling four disciples to follow him and share his life, and then in one momentous day, a Sabbath day, entering a town, Capernaum, a little fishing village along the Sea of Galilee. He enters the synagogue at Capernaum where his teaching amazes the people and he drives out an unclean spirit who calls him “the holy one of God.” All through his life on earth Jesus will give life and face evil.
From the synagogue Jesus goes into Peter and Andrews’s house, a compound near the synagogue, where he cures Peter’s mother in bed with a fever. News about someone speaking with authority and curing the sick in Caphernaum spreads like wildfire. At the end of the day the whole town is at the door of Peter’s house.
We watch a whole town come alive in Mark’s gospel because Jesus is there. He changes the place and its people, the synagogue, the church where they worship, the homes they live in. Mark wants us to realize also that what happened there in Capernaum is meant to happen again, in other people, in other places, in other churches and homes.
That’s why Jesus says “Let’s go to the nearby villages; this is why I have come” to Peter and the others the next day after the momentous day opening his ministy. “And so they went to the villages nearby, where he taught in their synagogues and healed many.” (Mark 1,38-39) But it’s not just to the nearby villages around the Sea of Galilee that Jesus will go, not just to the world back then. It’s to the world here and now that he comes. It’s not just to the people back then, it’s the people here and now that he comes– to us.
It’s important that we keep that in mind when we hear in today’s gospel about a leper who approached Jesus. The leper probably met Jesus on his way to one of the nearby villages. A leper in those days would be outside the villages and towns, in a deserted place. His disease made him unclean, dangerous, and so he had to leave his family and society to live alone. If anyone came near him, he had to warn them off. “Unclean, unclean!”
But the leper in our story comes up to Jesus and kneels before him. “If you wish you can make me clean.” How did he know about Jesus? Did he hear the news from Capernaum, from people who told about him? Someone from his family?
Mark says that Jesus “was moved with pity, stretched out his hand, touched him and said ‘ I do will it, be made clean.’”
The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.”
This is the first miracle in Mark’s gospel where details of how Jesus healed are given. “He was moved with pity.” “He stretched out his hand, touched him and said, ‘I do will it, be made clean,’” Then Jesus told him to go show himself to a priest, who would verify that the man was free from leprosy. He also told him not to tell anyone about what happened, but the man told everybody.
Jesus heals the leper, not as a show of power, but because his heart was moved with pity. He touches the leper, whom everyone pushed aside and feared to touch. His words are not just words; his heart speaks in them. “I do will it, be made clean.”
That was the miracle then, but if this is not just about then, what about now? Today there are probably only a few people in the world with the leprosy the man experienced then, but certainly there are those now who feel like him, like a outsider, a stranger, someone who doesn’t belong, a failure perhaps.
Jesus brought his disciples with him then to do what he did. Now, are we to have our hearts moved with pity and reach out and touch somebody like the leper?
Or, are we the ones who need to experience the love of Jesus. Are we like the leper ourselves, out in a desert place, alone and adrift? Do we need his healing?
This is our Sabbath day, this is Lord’s time; he has come to our place and to us.