Sermon for 6 Epiphany, Year B
Based on Mk. 1:40-45
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
"Christ's Healing Touch"
In their book, Not Just Yes and Amen: Christians With A Cause, Dorothee Soelle and Fulbert Steffensky have this to say concerning the miracle healing stories of Jesus: "The miracle stories in the New Testament talk about human lives being changed, even though the prospects for change at first seemed hopeless. The New Testament is a rather unashamedly impudent book. Nothing stays the way it is: the lame do not remain lame, lepers do not remain unclean, the poor will have enough for their lives, the mighty do not stay mighty, and tyrants are overthrown. Life is possible for everyone, even when everything seems otherwise. The miracle stories are stories of revolt against resignation and against the destruction of life. They are stories that teach people not to call it quits, not to satisfy themselves with mediocre and lazy lives. You have a right to life in all its wholeness."
The story of Jesus healing the leper is indeed a story of: revolt against resignation; against the destruction of life; against the narrow, rigid cultural and religious boundaries placed on certain "unclean" people. It's a beautiful story of: breaking boundaries; transforming evil into good; healing by taking the risk of touching someone untouchable; finding and celebrating a new, changed life of wholeness.
The society in which Jesus lived separated the clean from the unclean. There were clear-cut boundaries between the two. It was believed that unclean persons were sinful and possessed evil spirits. Therefore, they were ostracized, kept at a safe distance from clean people for fear of becoming contaminated with the sin and evil of the unclean.
Leprosy in those days was not necessarily Hanson's Disease, which, interestingly enough, is not contagious ~ rather, it could be several different kinds of skin diseases or conditions. However, to be inflicted with leprosy in those days meant big changes for people. There was a lot of negative stigma attached to it.
For example, it meant that one had to live in exile from the mainstream of society. It meant that one was considered "the living dead." It meant living a life in isolation from one's previous family, friends, neighbours, work, and so on. It meant have to keep several feet away from so-called "clean" people and yell out loud in warning to them: "Unclean! Unclean!" All-in-all, it was a life of oppression, humiliation and suffering.
In our contemporary society, we too have our "unclean" people. Although they may not necessarily be lepers, nonetheless they may feel that way because of how they are ostracized by the so-called "clean" in our society. If one talks with persons with AIDS or cancer ~ or maybe even the mentally and physically challenged, one soon discovers stories of isolation, oppression, humiliation and suffering. Even though many in our "sophisticated" society would deny that they're fearful of being "contaminated" by people with AIDS, cancer, the mentally and physically challenged ~ nonetheless, their behaviours, in many instances, communicate the exact opposite message.
I've heard stories from persons with AIDS, cancer, the mentally and physically challenged filled with hurt, suffering, pain and rejection. These people feel very alone and forgotten by the mainstream of society. Some have experienced isolation and condemnation from those closest to them ~ their own family members, friends and neighbours.
As followers of Jesus, who healed and touched, ate with, befriended, and warmly welcomed the "unclean" of his society ~ how do we respond to the so-called "unclean" of our society? Does our Christian faith make any difference? Do we model our behaviours and attitudes after Jesus? Maybe we'd consider volunteering to visit patients with AIDS or cancer. Maybe we'd consider welcoming and even providing transportation to church, those who are mentally or physically challenged. Maybe we'd even consider asking them to teach us in seminars, workshops, Bible studies and retreats, about what their lives are like living with their illness or condition.
This brings us to another point of our gospel story that is very important. Mark tells us that the manner in which Jesus heals the leper is by touching him and speaking the words: "I do choose" (to heal the leper). "Be made clean!" Jesus was willing to take that risk; to break the boundary; to come close enough to the leper to actually touch him and heal him with that touch and with his words. Here, in the healing ministry of Jesus, we learn that actions and words in complete harmony with each other bring the healing that the leper had desired and begged Jesus for.
How close are we willing to come to those whom we or others hold at a distance because we label them "unclean?" How willing are we, like Jesus to break the boundary of distance; to come close enough and help the "lepers" in our society? How willing are we to learn how to harmoniously combine our actions and words in the service of Christ for the purpose of healing ourselves and others?
According to contemporary research, endorphins ~ morphinelike substance secreted in the pituitary gland to control pain and pleasure ~ are produced in our bodies with positive experiences of physical touch. In common language, we all benefit from and are healed by "hug therapy." As followers of Jesus, we too can share and carry on his ministry of healing touch with others.
Moreover, we too are invited by Jesus to draw close to him spiritually through: prayer and meditation, worshipping him, studying the scriptures, receiving the sacraments, and by participating in our faith community's events.
In other words, when our actions and words are in harmony, they can indeed, like Jesus', bring healing and change or reverse "the way things are." Mark tells us however, that there's another change or reversal of "the way things are," this time with an interesting twist. Instead of listening to Jesus' instructions to the leper to fulfill the appropriate ritual offerings prescribed by the Torah to publicly validate the cleansing; the leper, on the contrary, goes and does what Jesus had "sternly" warned him not to do. The cleansed, healed leper freely goes out and spreads "The Good News" of what Jesus had done for him. He couldn't contain himself; he couldn't keep it a secret ~ since Christ's healing touch was so deep, profound and liberating that his whole being flooded over with gratitude which had to be shared with the world.
May we too become so touched by the healing power of Jesus that we cannot contain ourselves; we cannot keep it a secret; we just have to spread "The Good News" in a spirit of joyful gratitude with the whole world.
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