Text: Mark 1: 40-45
A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, 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.” 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.
Leviticus 13 and 14 gave the Jews rules to follow when it came to skin diseases. They were to come to the priest and get examined. There is a laundry list of things that that the priest will look over and in the end pronounce him unclean. If that person had leprosy that meant that had to follow Leviticus 13:45,46 “The person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp.” So this was the state of the man who came in front of Jesus. He lived alone. He yelled “Unclean! Unclean!” That is what he thought of himself.
In those days a Rabbi was considered holy because of the distance he kept from mundane affairs. He was perceived to be closer to God because he avoided association with sinners and unclean people. One could only be holy if one distanced themselves from the common people. But here was the Rabbi of Rabbis who was God in the incarnate form, who had what one could call the “Miracle of Approachability”. Jesus was available for everyone. If being Holy means to keep distance from people and the world, the one is definitely not following Jesus. His gift to the people was His availability. As a Priest, I always feel tempted to be aloof and disengaged from mundane affairs. But I need to constantly ask myself, am I approachable? Am I available to people? Am I following Jesus?
It is this availability of Jesus that compelled the person with Leprosy to come out of his isolation. The law demanded that such people should never come out in public and never appear in front of rabbis. But this Man did come out. He knew that Jesus could cleanse him and heal him. But he was not sure if Jesus would engage with him. That is why he says “If you choose, you can make me clean.” What did Jesus do?
Navjeevan Centre, Mumbai is a rehabilitation Centre for children of Commercial Sex workers. Most of the children had something about them where we could call it the “touch-deficit” inscribed on them. Either they were touched for all the wrong reasons or were not touched at all. This affected their self-esteem and confidence. There was a phenomenon that I saw when the then Director Rev Dr Moni Mathew came to the Centre. Children would run towards him. Was he giving gifts for them to flock. Yes. He was giving them the biggest gift that he could give. The gift of ‘touch’. He would hold them, affirm them, pat them and encourage them. Children loved that moment of eternity where they were respected and touched as humans. To be honest it is that day it dawned to me how important a human touch is. A touch means the world to people who are deprived of it. It is the touch that makes them feel human.
This man with Leprosy was one who nobody touched. Imagine a life where no one touched you. No one held your hands. No one patted your back and said “Well done.” No one hugged. No one kissed. No one put hands on your shoulder and said “Do not worry. Everything will be fine.” It is here we understand the “Miracle of Touch” that Jesus uses. He could have just said “be healed” and that would have been enough. But he chose to touch him. He affirmed the man his dignity. And then he says “I do choose. Be made clean!”. The man’s biggest struggle was the fact that he was unclean. It bothered him more than being a leper. Jesus addresses his deepest struggle and made him clean.
What is the most fascinating part of this miracle? The man with Leprosy was believed to be infected. His disease was believed to be contagious. But here the Leper did not infect Jesus with his sickness. Jesus infected the Leper with his life. How beautiful! Jesus is life. And the life he has is infectious. When Jesus touched him it is said in vs 42 ‘Immediately the leprosy[e] left him, and he was made clean.’ The infection of life was so strong that even when Jesus warned the man with Leprosy to not tell this to anyone, But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word. He was filled with a new life that compelled him to spread the infection of life that Jesus promised.
When I am on facebook I come out feeling very miserable. There is so much of hatred, abuses, and negative comments all over. In our daily life we are faced with so much of anger in bus, work places and roads. We are all infected with hatred and we too are spreading this infection. I remember when in college, my best friend Sherin Abraham came and hugged me. I did not know what the matter was. Then he narrated to me a story. “I was riding my bike. I came to a signal where there was this old man. I partially nudged him and his tiffin fell on the ground and his food was all over the road. The people nearby yelled out in anger. I knew that was it. Then I looked at the old man who I had wronged. He looked and smiled at me. You know I was in tears. And he told me to go. He had every right to be angry. But he chose to smile. It was such a huge lesson of grace for me. He just ended the cycle of anger there and then.” In a time where prejudices, hatred and anger are so contagious and spreading like wild fire, Jesus is asking us to be contagious with life. Spread the joy of love. Celebrate life. Spread the infection of being human. Let us spread the joy of life. Life is truly wonderful.
Before giving the Holy Body and Holy Blood at the Eucharist, the Mar Thoma Liturgy has a passage where the Priest holds the Holy elements and turns to the congregation and says “Daivamaya karthaave Kaanapedavtha-alaatha Ninte Valath Kai Neeti……” (Lord Stretch out your invisible right hand…). We at the table of our Lord are infected with anger, jealousy, hatred and pride. The Priest beseeches Christ to Stretch out his hands like he stretched out to the Leper, so that we may be cleansed and be infected with the Life that only Christ can give. May Christ Stretch out His Invisible Right Hand and touch us. Let us hear him say “I do choose. Be made clean.” Amen
Rev Merin Mathew
Mar Thoma Syrian Church