Untouchable?

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Yesterday’s Sermon.  Text Mark 1:40-45

Have you ever experienced being an outcast?  Probably most of us have little idea what it is like, yet in the world today there are many people who are exactly that.  Imagine if wherever you went people shrank away from you and shielded their children from you lest they be contaminated!  Leprosy has over the centuries been a disease that if you suffered from it, you were forced to live apart from even your family, you were physically and emotionally made to be an outcast.  Of course Leprosy is better understood these days so thankfully the stigma associated with it is not as great as it once was.  However, many people today who suffer from AIDS can meet the same kind of rejection as Lepers used to, and then you have the Dalits in India, the so called ‘untouchables’ that make up 16% of the population of that vast country.  But what about you and me, have we ever experienced rejection?  We probably all have at one time or another, so it is not totally impossible for us to try and understand what it must be like to be an outcast.  I was never much good at soccer, and so I can remember what it felt like to be standing there, wearing overly large National Health Prescription glasses and sporting the most knobby knees, the last one chosen after all the other children had been picked for a team!  But joking aside, maybe you are facing rejection now in one way or another; at home or at work or at school or college.  Let us all try and bring our experiences to the reading from Mark’s Gospel today[1].

The Lord Jesus is near the beginning of His ministry and he is traveling around the villages in the region of Galilee when a man with leprosy came to him and kneels down, begging Jesus to make him clean.  the Lord’s response is both wonderful and miraculous.  No-one is an outcast with Jesus; to Him no-one is unclean or unworthy of his great compassion.  To everyone else this man suffering from Leprosy is an outcast, but to Jesus this man is another lost soul that needs healing and rescuing.  The man seems to have heard about Jesus and even though it was forbidden for a Leper to come into close contact with others, (Leviticus 13:45,46) this man is so desperate to meet Jesus that he disregards the rules.  He does not presume that Jesus will heal him, so he says:

‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ (40)

The Lord is deeply moved by this sight before Him, a man suffering so dreadfully from an awful disease.  Jesus’ response is not just compassion, but action, he responds to the man by saying:

‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ (41b)

The man had a desperate need and he had the faith to believe that Jesus could heal him.  Jesus responds by touching the man who was untouchable and he instantly and miraculously heals the disease that was in that day likened to being a living corpse and considered as hard to heal as resurrecting someone from the dead! [2] To Jesus, God the Son, this is all part of His work of redemption which would have its ultimate fulfillment in what He would achieve on the cross.

Can you imagine what it must have been like for this man who was untouchable to be touched by Jesus?  Perhaps one of the most terrible things about suffering from Leprosy was that he was completely deprived of any human contact; how long would it have been since he had even been close to a person, let alone felt the touch of someone who cared for and loved him?

The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge spoke of all of our need to be touched when he told the story of his three year old son, who awoke in the middle of one night and called out to his mother:

“Touch me, only touch me with your finger,”
The child’s mother was astonished.  “Why?” she asked.
“I’m not here,” the boy cried. “Touch me, Mother, so I may be here.”[3]

All young children crave to be held and I suppose this boy, the son of a great poet, was able to express it particularly eloquently!  But it is not just children, all of us long for physical contact, God made us that way, not only for human relationships but also for our relationship with Him.  Yes all of us need human touch but how much more do we need the touch of God to soften our hardened hearts and damaged lives?  Jesus longs for us to come to him, like this man with Leprosy, to come to him on our knees and ask Him to touch us and heal us and cleanse us.

I recently read something written by a lady called Jan, who wrote a letter to her Pastor, (who with her permission shared it online).  In her letter, she wanted to share her experience of illness.  Maybe some of you will be able to relate to this.  She writes:

It was the end. I knew it. I could no longer fight. I sat here emotionless. I was totally alone. Others had tried to help—doctors, nurses, parents, husband, children. But they were gone…

…Deep within myself I knew I was still sick. My symptoms worsened. So, here I was, back in the hospital.

I sat in the bathroom. It was the middle of the night. No people, no “miracle” medicine, no strength left. I was too tired to fight. I sat there—four walls surrounding me. And a bleak, monotonous “bleep” from my battery-operated IV filled the silence. I couldn’t stop the sound of that miserable machine, anymore than I could control my own miserable life. So I sat there—dull, miserable, in pain, with no hope.

It was while I was there that I finally did hear something else. I didn’t hear it with my ears—but I did in my spirit. I heard someone crying. And I immediately knew that it was Jesus crying for me. I was shocked—totally surprised. I didn’t think he would do that for me.

This experience did not leave me emotionally elated. Nor did I feel a physical touch. Life was the same; except I now knew I really was not in this battle alone. Jesus cared in a way my wildest imagination would never have hoped for or expected.

Slowly I got up and shuffled back to bed, my IV still “bleeping” in my ears. Life was the same but different entirely. I believe that Jesus at that time made intercession to the Father for me. When there was absolutely no one else that would help me, he cried for me. And I did recover. Thank you, Jesus.[4]

None of us need to be alone, ever, at any time, no matter what it is that we are going through.

Understandably, the man who was healed of Leprosy, was filled with great excitement.  The Lord then sternly warns him and says something that we might think a little strange:

‘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.’ (44)

If you or I were healed of something as minor as hay-fever we would want to be telling everyone about it, how much more so if it was something as dreadful as Leprosy!? But perhaps the Lord does not want people to know Him only as a miracle-worker, with a reputation like a travelling magician.  Also, don’t forget that this is near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry; He does not want the opposition to that ministry to grow too great too soon.  But as well as telling the man not to do something, He also gives him something that he is required to do.  As an act of witness to the priest in the Temple in Jerusalem, this man is to go and show himself.  The priest would then perform the ritual cleansing of the man and learn that it was Jesus who had performed the miracle.

Thankfully, when we go to church to worship we only need to bring ourselves, and maybe a Bible and hymnnal. This man however had to bring with him two clean living birds!  One bird then had to be killed and in its blood the bird that was alive had to be dipped.  the blood of the slain bird was also sprinkled seven times over the healed man, after which he would be pronounced cured.  Of course this sacrifice and the blood of cleansing was all pointing towards that ultimate Sacrifice which the Lord Jesus Himself would perform on the cross.  An act of sacrifice so total that it would never need to be performed again and an act of sacrifice that makes anyone who comes to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith clean, not just once, but always.

Because of what the Lord Jesus has done, we are no longer outcasts.  If you have not already done so, allow Him into your heart, into your life, let Him be your Friend, your Lord and your Saviour, let Him touch you and heal you inside and out … Let us pray … Amen.

 


[1] Much of this opening paragraph is either taken from or inspired by Susan Sayer’s notes from “Living Stones” Year B Resource Book, Kevin Mayhew 1999, p.61.

[2] S.U. Notes “Closer to God”, Vol.13 2002, p.15

2 Comments to “Untouchable?”

  1. That reminds me of something that happened when Jack was about three. It was late at night and he wouldn’t settle in bed and kept wanting me to stay with him. I was conscious of the early start we had the next morning. I said to him “it’s all right, you can stay in your bed and you’ll still be able to see me (across the hall). His reply was “yes, but I won’t be able to feel you”. So I got into the bed and stayed there for the night!!! What else could I do really? :)

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