Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.
‘Open to blessing’
The Gospel of Mark is written in direct, unadorned language and this is nowhere clearer than in the lection for today: “A person with leprosy approached Jesus, knelt down and begged, ‘If you are willing, you can heal me.’” But the simple language stirs our imaginations and makes the situation vivid. This desperate person, accustomed to rejection, came begging, kneeling.
But Jesus, “moved with pity/anger” (the Greek manuscripts use two different words to express the depth of feeling), “stretched out a hand” and “touched the person”. Jesus touched the person with leprosy. Mark’s account records that Jesus said, “I am willing. Be cleansed”, and then describes the person cleansed of contagion and sent to the priests for confirmation of healing (the priests were qualified to diagnose the disease and its disappearance – perhaps Jesus was angry with them and with their purity system for helping make the person’s life a misery – perhaps Jesus was angry with the sickness itself).
If we can put ourselves into the sufferer’s shoes, we can imagine that the touching, more than anything, was what this person needed. What were kind words alone to someone deprived so long of human touch?
Jesus touched the person! This is one of the most profound things recorded in the Scriptures. God’s Beloved touched the unloved one. I receive that word as a word of assurance: Never underestimate the power of touch, the power of human touch blessed by God. It almost seems too simple …
Jesus then sent the person away with instructions to say nothing to anyone. Jesus knew, we might surmise, that the problems people face are not only common physical and mental illnesses. There are other “illnesses” common to us: the moralism and legalism of religious leaders that bind people’s lives with impossible rules; bigotry that isolates people from each other; greed and consumerism that treat with disdain the earth and its creatures; political power abused; arrogance, prejudice and selfishness – all of which damage individuals and poison communities. Jesus urged the leper to go quietly.
And just as this incident of Jesus touching a suffering person lends immediacy to the great theological statements about the Incarnation – God’s Beloved touched the unloved one – it also raises questions. “Why does God not change things so that all suffering is ended, all violence halted, all war outlawed? Jesus sending the leper away with instructions not to advertise the cure lest a flood of response overwhelm his ministry, suggests that God searches for ways to overcome all human dysfunction: sometimes with an immediate healing of a human illness; sometimes by the development of human skills in researching and finding solutions to diseases and ailments; and sometimes in confronting injustice by calling prophets, religious and secular, to expose misuse and abuse of power, and to promote integrity.
God, we might say, enacts divine freedom as God engages human freedom. God does it with patience, grace, pity/anger and love.
The story of God in Christ stooping to touch humanity has a double ending. Jesus’ opponents finally kill him, because he touched a leper and healed many more, and because he touched on the truth of their violent power over others, their fearful grasping at power and life. He lies three days in the grave. But then God lifts Jesus to new life, to life in the Spirit, to life eternal.
Jesus touched the person. The hand of God is placed on a world God refuses to abandon. We who hear this story of a suffering person, who know that Jesus has touched us too, are commissioned to touch and heal — as a church community in word and deed, and each one of us as we offer to God our peculiar gifts, our daily work, opportunities, contacts and prayers.
It almost seems too simple – that we are called to touch and heal by way of openness to blessing. The very wealthy and very powerful Syrian, Naaman, nearly missed out on healing. He thought the prophet’s invitation to bathe in the Jordan too banal, too simple. Naaman wanted something more extravagant, something grander, befitting his high station. If not for the wisdom of his attendants, Naaman may have missed out on relationship with God. But he washed and he was healed.
It almost seems too simple – that we are called to touch and heal by way of openness to blessing – that we are called to touch and heal by way of everyday devotion, kindness and respect – that we are touched and healed simply by gathering to pray and to sing; simply by reading and hearing stories; simply by breaking bread and sharing wine; simply, today, by entrusting little Jacob Andrew Lot to this water blessed by God.
We are touched and healed, now, simply by way of silence ... May it be so. Amen.
[Draws on a homily by Ron Ham.]