This week, though, has been particularly challenging. It has also been made more interesting by both the Bible studies that we do here on Monday at noon and Tuesday evening. It was made even more so by some conversation I had around the table of my friends Mark and Miranda. Let me try to tell you what I mean.
In Exodus 4:1-9 Moses asks God what he's supposed to do if he goes to the Israelites and they don't believe him. God gives Moses a series of signs that are to demonstrate that he represents a God of great power. Worth noting is the fact that these are signs that are like many of the magic tricks of the Egyptian sorcerers who serve the Pharaoh ..... but that they are more powerful. Also, they are a foreshadowing of the plagues that will come upon Egypt for refusing to let God's people go.
Then there is the passage from Mark 1:35-45. In it, Jesus is approached by a leper who tells him, "if you want to, you can heal me." Jesus, we're told, moved with compassion (or anger, or both...depends on your translation) reaches out and touches him....healing him in the process.
Now, first of all, Jesus' healings are, at least in part, a sign that He is indeed the Messiah; that His announcement that "the Kingdom of God has come among you" is true. Sort of like the signs Moses is given to demonstrate the truth of Moses' claim that he has met God in the wilderness. God has seen and heard the plight of God's people in Egypt and has been moved to act on their behalf. God incarnate in Jesus sees this leper, hears his cry, and is moved with an angry compassion (or compassionate anger) to touch and heal him. The Kingdom of God is present.
The ones that moved me most were those in which it looks like Jesus is about to embrace the leper:
I imagine Jesus wrapping this leper in a huge embrace while the fear and pain of his situation just drained from his being. And when Jesus let him go, he was healed.
Then Jesus sends him on his way to go to the priests and perform the rituals that will let him return home, restored to both family and community. And though he's been told not to say anything, this leper just can't stop talking about the man who healed him. Can you blame him?
And that's where I was til last night. You can make a GREAT sermon out of the fact that the Kingdom is here, now and that we have a God who is moved with compassion for all our pain and dis-ease and reaches out to touch and heal us. And all of this is true. Every bit of it.
But then Mark and Miranda got me thinking about what we do with our gratitude. We had this really deep conversation about how we are all broken and struggling to find healing. And I went home turning all that over in my head.....and somewhere before I feel asleep I remembered the phrase "Simon the leper" and wrote it down to check on in the morning.
If you go to Mark 14:3-9 or Matthew 26:6-13 (other versions of this story are found in Luke 7:36-50 and John 12:1-8) you will find the story of the woman who anoints Jesus. It is an incredibly beautiful story, rich with meaning and pathos. But I want to point out to you where this story happens according to Mark. It happens in the house of Simon the leper. Now we know that if Simon hasn't been healed, he wouldn't be in his house...he couldn't be. This is the home of a man who has been healed by Jesus and has opened up his home to Him in gratitude. And it is in the display of gratitude that he creates the space in which this incredible story unfolds.
We are all broken. In each of us is a "leper." We try to hide him/her from everyone, often even ourselves. But s/he is there. In our desperation we cry out, "if you want to, you can heal me!" God, in compassion (and perhaps even anger at the situations that have left us broken and wounded) wraps us in God's healing touch. But that's not meant to be the end. Our lives are meant to become places of hospitality for both the presence of Christ and those who seek God's healing touch. We are not healed/saved, or as the song Praise My Soul The King Of Heaven says it, "ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven," so we can go on with our live in a business as usual fashion.
During His time here on earth in human form, Jesus' healing touch and His other miracles were signs that the Kingdom of God had come among those who saw Him. Today it is our lives that are to be the sign that the Kingdom of God is here, now. Are our lives being lived in an attitude of gratitude that makes this a reality?