By the Rev’d Lucy Nguyen
Season: 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: 2 Kings 5:1-14 | 1 Cor 9:24-27 | Mark 1:40-45
A warning is something that is said or written to tell people of a possible danger, problem, or other unpleasant thing that might happen. (1) Why might we not follow a warning? Jerry Seinfeld once did a bit about how Americans will ignore all kinds of serious warning labels – like the ones on cigarettes, for example – but they will absolutely never wash something that states it should be dry cleaned only. It’s funny because it’s not what we might expect. (2)
Take a moment to recall a time when you did not follow a warning. Have something in mind? Recall what happened. Were you aware if there was a consequence or a particular outcome that came about because of what you did or didn’t do? Did you try and go back to amend or change the outcome?
For every action, there is a reaction.
Some reactions are obvious and seen or noticed immediately. Some reactions or consequences are delayed and perhaps not even noticed by the instigator, or perhaps noticed by the instigator but not recognised as a consequence of what they may have done or not done. Keep this in mind as we go back to our gospel reading.
We have the story of a man with leprosy, which in ancient times referred to any number of skin diseases. The term does not refer to Hansen’s disease, commonly referred to today as leprosy. What we know was the man had a skin condition that marked him and other sufferers as unclean and to be avoided. (Biblical leprosy in Hebrew – “tzara‘ath”). (3) How does Jesus respond? We read, ‘Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him.’ We note that the first word, [σπλαγχνισθειs,] which we read as “moved with pity”, connotes a deep, gut-wrenching, even angry compassion which we can see in Jesus’ extraordinary gesture of touching the untouchable and perhaps his fury that this man was suffering from society turning its collective back on him due to their religious purity laws. (3) Jesus touches and a miracle happens – “immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.”
Mark has moved us swiftly into Jesus’ ministry – you recall, in this Gospel, we are only in the first chapter. Mark’s emphasis is on the public ministry of Jesus which reveals Jesus’ source of powerful healing compassion is of the Divine, thus marking him as the Son of God. And yet, there is a warning with this healing. The healing came with instruction and a warning – ‘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.’
What does the man do? The exact opposite.
Now, many people write that, of course, the man couldn’t keep quiet; it was a miracle. It was good news to share. That’s what we are called to do. But let’s pause for a moment and think about the warnings we might have ignored – or perhaps the ones we are grateful that we didn’t ignore.
It was proposed in the early 1900s that this text is our first encounter with the “Messianic Secret” in the gospel of Mark. It refers to the motif of secrecy about Jesus’ Messianic identity found primarily in the gospel of Mark. Wrede’s theory was that it was the creation of the evangelist to explain why Jesus was rejected and put to death. (3) However, more recent scholarship offers several other more historical reasons why the “messianic secret” may have come from Jesus himself. (3) Jesus may have employed it in an attempt to avoid political violence. He may have employed it because he did not want to be known only as a wonder worker, of whom there were many in his day. Jesus may have employed it because he wanted to teach people what his messiahship really meant in a gradual progression.
Let’s consider what happened when the man with leprosy did not follow Jesus’ warning. (3) “The leper’s premature and truncated “good news” portrayed Jesus as a wonder worker and caused him, Jesus, to be mobbed before he could be heard. The leper’s disobedience hampers Jesus’ ministry. Jesus now has to stay in the country, because going into a town would mean being mobbed by the sick and the curious (1:45). The cleansed leper’s disobedience foreshadows the failure of just about everybody in the gospel of Mark to obey Jesus (Aaron, 39). (3)
Mark wants us to learn to be a disciple in Mark’s gospel is to “follow” Jesus. And we realise that the one who performs miracles and healings that restore people to community and to wholeness also, at the same time, calls people to take up their cross and follow him along a way of sacrifice and possibly, death.” Alyce Mackenzie reflects that this “is not just a spatial following, but is, rather, a technical term for discipleship. The healed and exorcized are to “follow” Jesus as a mark of their full restoration (Thurston, 11).
The leper accepts his cleansing but fails to accept his commissioning. He confused bragging about his blessing with living out the good news of sacrificial love for others in imitation of Jesus Christ.” (3) There are consequences to all our actions and some consequences may not be immediately obvious. The man with leprosy probably had no idea what happened when he didn’t follow the warning.
As followers of Jesus, we need to consider what we do and the impact “down the line”. This is true whether in politics, gardening, shopping, or engaging with others. What are the warning signs that something we are doing individually or collectively is not working? Who is it in our community who feels cut off and ashamed?
Jesus was and is the compassionate one, who enters fully into the human mess of our lives and does not walk away. The warning was that we are not to get caught up simply in the telling of our blessing; rather, we are to live into it and share it. Receive the healing – you are loved just as you are, and you are not alone. Be this love for others. Live into this truth, and you will be, as you already are, healing in Jesus’ name.
And remember the warning… Go and live!