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.
There is a poignancy to this scene that is rather rather uncharacteristic of Mark’s gospel. This is most apparent at two spots. First, the absolute earnestness of the man with leprosy: he comes profoundly aware of both his need and Jesus’ capacity to meet it. There is a winsome desperation about his request: “If you choose….”
Second, Jesus is visibly affected by the man’s request. Mark rarely betrays Jesus’ emotional or psychological state, but he tells us that Jesus is moved by the man’s need and so he both affirms his request “I do choose” and then also heals him.
Part of what we witness in this scene, then, is a mutual vulnerability that while perhaps more easily apparent in the man’s request – he knows he is at Jesus’ mercy – is nevertheless also a part of Jesus’ response as he allows himself to be moved, touched, affected by this man’s condition.
Is that part of what it is to be members of the Body of Christ – to both honest about our own need and open to being affected by the need of others? I think so. But I have to confess a certain ambivalence about this. On the one hand, I find the idea of a community that is this honest, this real, this willing to be in genuine and caring relationship with each other so incredibly attractive. At the same time, it’s a little scary. What is I admit my need only to be rejected, or find another’s needs too large to carry?
There is an unavoidable risk to genuine relationship that makes us both excited and nervous, both eager and anxious, to enter into it. And that is for good reason. There is always a cost to bearing one another’s burdens. Perhaps this is why Jesus’ directs the man he heals to be silent – he would like, if possible, to minimize the cost. Yet the man cannot keep silent…and Jesus can no longer go into towns openly. He is forced to the country, to the wilderness once more.
Prayer: Dear God, we give you thanks for the price Jesus’ was willing to pay to welcome us into a different kind of relationship, one governed by selflessness and mercy. Encourage us also to be honest about our needs and open to being moved by the needs of others. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Post Image: Healing Heart, by Rochelle Carr