Touching the Untouchable

02 Nov

I believe God is powerful. I believe he can do all things. I believe he can heal my marriage … provide me with a job … protect my children … comfort me when I’m alone … guide my decisions … restore a broken relationship … release me from my anxiety … take away my illness … I believe he can do all these things. I just don’t know if he cares. I don’t know if he has time for my issues, worries, concerns, and burdens. I believe he can, but will he? That’s another matter entirely.

The question of, “God is able, but is he willing?” lies at the heart of Mark 1:40-45. The passage tells the story of a leper who came to Jesus asking to be healed. He was convinced Jesus could make him clean. He just didn’t know if Jesus was willing to heal him.

hand lifted upLeprosy is a disease that starts with a speck or a spot on the skin. It soon turns into a sore or a scab. From there it spreads throughout the body. The person afflicted with the disease would often lose all sense of feeling. From a human standpoint, it was considered to be incurable. There were only two recorded accounts in the Old Testament of a person being healed of the disease (Numbers 12:10-15; 2 Kings 5:1-14) and both required divine intervention.

Leprosy was more than a disease. It was a sentence. You suffered physically. You suffered socially because you had to live outside of normal society. You suffered mentally because you were considered unclean. You suffered spiritually because you were unable to enter the temple or the synagogue to worship. Leprosy is a metaphor for sin itself. Perhaps that is why the Scriptures speak of being cleansed from leprosy rather than being healed.

As Mark explains, a leper came to Jesus and pleaded for help. Without presumption (“If you are willing”) and without doubting (“you can make me clean”), the leper humbly begged Jesus to heal him (40).

Jesus hand reaching ours-PP-posterizedWhat is surprising is how Jesus responded. Because of the seriousness of the disease, one would assume Jesus would heal him first and then touch him. In contrast, Jesus was moved with compassion and he touched the untouchable (41). He touched him and then healed him. Jesus’ response was no less scandalous than the leper’s request was audacious. Not only was Jesus able, but he willing. He is powerful and compassionate.

The man was healed (42). Instantly. Completely. Visibly.

Jesus charged the man to keep silent (43). Before doing anything else, he was to follow the instructions of the Law and present himself to the priests for inspection (44). Only then would he be allowed back into society.

Instead of remaining silent, the former leper told everyone he could about what happened (45). He could not stop talking about what Jesus had done for him. As a result of the man’s testimony, Jesus was inundated with people. Even though he withdrew to remote places, people kept coming to him.

The challenge I take away from this passage is that I should respond like the leper. Because Jesus touched me, I should tell others about him.

Christ with no handsA unique statue of Christ can be found at Christ the King Catholic Church in San Diego, CA. The hands were broken off by vandals around 1980. Instead of repairing the hands, the church decided to put up a plaque at the base of the statue that reads, “I have no hands but yours.” It is a reference to a poem by St. Teresa of Avila that begins: “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours.” The statue is a powerful symbol of a great truth: We are the hands of Jesus in today’s world.

Who will you touch with the good news of the gospel?

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on November 2, 2014. It is part of a series on the Gospel of Mark. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.


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