Sunday, February 12, 2012

Don't Tell Anyone

Mark 1:40-45
“Don’t Tell Anyone”

        It is so easy to get excited about miracles stories that we often make that the emphasis of the message.  I would like to suggest that miracles are secondary and unfortunately our fascination with them often keep us from discovering the real impact of the text.  In the first chapter of Mark, Jesus has been confronted by demons and sick mother-in-laws.  He has healed headaches and backaches.  The ultimate test comes when he is confronted by a leper.  In the time of Jesus, in fact, until recently, leprosy was the most feared of all diseases.  It was thought to be highly contagious.  Only in the last century have we discovered that leprosy is not spread by contact and is in many cases curable.  But in the first century, anyone with any skin disease was sent to a colony where other lepers resided.  When the leper approached Jesus we can be fairly certain of two things.  First, the man had been rejected by his community and second, when he approached Jesus, no one else was around.
        What intrigues me is not the miracle, but the conversation.  The leper questioned Jesus in a rather unusual manner.  “If you want to, you can heal me.”  There was no doubt in the mind of this young man that Jesus had the power to change his life.  The question that puzzled the leper was, “Are you like everyone else?  Are you afraid of my appearance?  Do you want to risk contact with me?  Am I worth your time?”
        Sometimes we forget Jesus came to save humankind, not to pick favorites.  It didn’t matter if you were a leper or a centurion, Jesus responded to human need.  The leper had no reason to fear that he would be rejected by the Son of God.  Jesus came to save, not condemn.  But then comes the interesting part.  Once the healing takes place Jesus instructed the leper to inform no one who was responsible for the healing.
        As you read Mark, part of the intrigue of this particular gospel centers around discovering the identity of Jesus.  Scholars refer to this as the secrecy motif.  The identity of Jesus is not fully revealed until his death and the revelation is by a Roman soldier in charge of the death squad.  The identity of Jesus seemed obvious to people possessed by demons, or to blind folks such as Bartamaus.  But the followers of Jesus did not have a clue.  Their human eyes were not prepared to witness God’s revelation. So it would appear Jesus’ instructions were in keeping with this secrecy motif in Mark’s Gospel.  
But there was a second reason Jesus requested the leper’s silence.   Let’s look at the facts.  Before the disease appeared the man might have had a family. He certainly came from one of the neighboring villages.  Each week family or friends would bring food and clothing and drop them off near the leper colony.  Little of no contact took place.  It only makes sense that the first thing the leper wanted to do was   return home.  Can you imagine being married and going years without being able to hold the hand of your wife?  Can you imagine being a mother and not being able to lift your child to your breast?  The healed man had been given back his life.  He probably ran all the way to his home just to gaze upon the folks he loved.  When this incredible homecoming took place, don’t you think someone was going to ask, “What happened?”  How was he to respond?  “I got up this morning and suddenly my skin was better.”  Do you think he would be able to hide his joy?  Don’t you think he would be screaming at the top of his lungs, “Jesus healed me!”
            Jesus knew this.  He also knew the immediate results would be that everyone who heard the story of the leper would come to Jesus hoping to be cured.  Jesus was certainly capable of healing anyone who crossed his path.  But Jesus did not come to this world just to eliminate disease.  He came with a message and a gift.  The message was, “Repent”.  The gift was grace, the amazing fulfillment of God’s eternal covenant. 
          I suspect all of us would like to see the leprosy’s that exist in today’s world eradicated.   I imagine we all believe God has the power to heal any illness.  And if this is true, why doesn’t God start with Aids, or Muscular Dystrophy, or Alzheimer’s?  And why stop there?  Why doesn’t God eliminate cancer and heart disease?  I for one would want to include some of our less obvious deadly diseases.  Why doesn’t God eliminate poverty?  Why doesn’t God destroy racism, sexism, and all the other “isms” that poison our society?  Why doesn’t God wipe out greed?  Why doesn’t God abolish war? Why doesn’t God heal the ills of humanity?  Why doesn’t God cure the world of all disorders?
        Imagine what would happen if God snapped God’s holy fingers and disease disappeared?  Imagine God waving God’s holy hand and Israel and the Palestinians became allies?  Imagine Hindu, Moslems, Christians and Buddhist recognizing the validity of each others faith.  Imagine the New York Yankees going to Fenway and not being booed? If all that happened, would we love God more?  Would we worship God more?  Would we strive to insure the second chance God had given us?  Or would we continue doing what humanity does best and begin all over again making a mess of God’s perfection. 
        I remember listening to an interview on PBS a few years ago.  A Russian scientist who had participated in the clean up after the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl was sharing her story.   For years since the accident she has tested the air, water and soil around the sight.  Thousands of acres south of the nuclear reactor had been quarantined and declared unhealthy for human habitation.  Her team had recently reentered this condemned area to review the results.  They did not find what they expected.  It was a virtual Garden of Eden.  Both plant and animal life were flourishing.  At first the scientists were amazed, but then their elation was subdued by the sobering reality of their discovery.  The one component eliminated from the area since the nuclear tragedy was human interaction.  Nature had flourished without us.  Their conclusion was the greatest danger to humanity ….. was humanity.  In other words,  it will never be enough for God to be just the great healer.  First and foremost God must be known as the Holy One who saves us from our sins.
        Therefore, Jesus did not come to the world just to heal; Jesus came to the world to save.  Remember the instructions he gave the leper.  “Don’t tell anyone what happened; don’t tell a soul how you were cured.  Go to the rabbi and offer a sacrifice.”
        Today, through the work and sacrifice of many men and women leprosy is curable.  In my lifetime, I look at the amazing advancements that have been made in the areas of cancer and heart disease.   When humans are selflessly willing to sacrifice together for the goodness of God’s creation, amazing miracles happen.  Of course as soon as we make headway in one direction we falter somewhere else.  For every sacrifice that is made, a thousand sins are committed.   The words that beg to be shouted from each of us that has been rescued from the leprosy of greed, or selfishness, or power, or arrogance, or hate is not Jesus cures but Jesus saves.    
        One century’s leprosy is another century’s Aids.  One generation’s Pearl Harbor is another generation’s 9-11. Illness of the body and mind will always plague the human adventure.  And yet God, for reasons beyond my comprehension, continues to love God’s flawed experiment. 
        Let us give thanks for the God-given opportunity to sacrifice our lives for the advancement of future generations.  Let us give thanks for Jesus who sacrificed his life that our salvation is more than a cure; it is an eternal gift.

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