The story of the leper being healed by Jesus is one of the more well known passages within Mark's gospel, made more memorable by the poor leper who just couldn't stop talking about his cure, despite Jesus having told him to keep the news as low key as possible.
We're probably also used to hearing the story told in the translation that we had today, which emphasizes Jesus' compassion. But in fact there's more than one translation of this particular phrase, and in the REB you'll find Jesus moved not by pity but by anger.
Now pity or compassion we might expect, but anger?
And yet one commentary suggests that this might well be the correct translation. But anger at what? Or at whom?
Well, surely not anger at the poor leper himself? The term leprosy is used in the bible to cover a multitude of skin complaints, from the totally disfiguring real leprosy to ringworm, psoriasis or eczema. All these complaints labeled a person as unclean and an outsider. The sufferer was effectively banished, condemned to live outside the community, bare-headed and in tattered clothes.
They were also diseases that were considered to have their origins with Satan, that the person concerned had been literally cursed by being struck down by the disease.
If a leper were ever cured he had to go through the most complicated ceremony of cleansing and restoration, which is described in the book of Leviticus 14
Read you a portion, because it's fascinating.
and so it goes on for another 20 verses!
This was certainly no quick fix!
Whether or not this man was suffering from the worst form of leprosy or some other disfiguring skin complaint, Jesus saw him and was moved .. almost certainly with compassion because he offered the healing touch, but possible also with anger .. and there's nothing wrong with Jesus feeling angry about evil and suffering in the world.
Two other points about this story are worth making.
Firstly, although this man technically broke the law by even talking to Jesus in the way that he did, Jesus didn't condemn him . such was Jesus' interpretation of the law as laid down by man - not that it was right to break the law, but that there were occasions where compassion and restoration to wholeness were more important.
Secondly, that Jesus didn't just say to the man "Right, you're cured. Off you go!"
What did he do instead? he made the man go through all the elaborate cleansing ceremonies and sacrificial offerings that accompanied the official recognition of a leprosy cure as laid down in the Mosaic law.
Why? Because Jesus hadn't come to say that the Old Law was bad and could be ignored from now on, but that He was the fulfillment of the law. He hadn't come to destroy the faith of the people by saying that all their ceremonies were worthless, now that the Son of God was in the world. These were traditions that had been handed down through centuries.
Jesus did not expect the people to suddenly accept something New. He was opening their eyes to the possibilities that His presence in the world could open up, pointing them towards a New Way.
A promise of Wholeness to those whose lives were touched by his presence.
And that's where this story impinges onto our lives, because that's the way that Jesus affects us by His touch.
If we look at the New Testament we find numerous examples of Jesus touching lives, and the effect of that meeting of lives means different things to different people
To some it is THE CLEANSING TOUCH as it was to the leper in our story.
"Be clean" said Jesus. In a similar story in Matthew's gospel, a leper says to Jesus "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean."
Jesus reaches out, touches the man, and says "I am willing. Be clean!"
In the ancient world, where disease was seen not as an attack by micro-organisms, but rather as an attack by Satan, this cleansing was seen as a way of making clean that which had been made dirty or unclean by contact with evil.
Today we are of course so much more knowledgeable about the causes of disease, but we often allow our bodies and minds to be affected by the world in which we live, a world which generally doesn't hold to the beliefs that we do, and in so doing we allow ourselves to become affected by dis-ease. This is a stressful, hurtful and often selfish world in which we live.
It is easy to become less than the person we know we should be. It is at times like this that we too need to know the cleansing touch of Jesus, to have our minds and bodies refreshed by his touch upon them.
To others the touch of Jesus was THE QUIETING TOUCH. In Matthew 8 we read that Peter's mother-in-law was lying in bed wracked with fever. Jesus touched her hand and the fever left her, and she began to wait on him.
There are times in our lives when the stress of living makes life almost unbearable. Concentration becomes impossible. Our minds are constantly active, and relaxation just isn't possible. it's at times like this that Jesus can bring to us the Quieting touch, that takes away the fever that torments our lives and brings peace in its place.
To some the touch of Jesus is the ILLUMINATING TOUCH.
Matthew 9:28 "When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them
'Do you believe that I am able to do this?'
'Yes, Lord.' they replied.
"Then he touched their eyes and said. 'According to your faith will it be done to you;' and their sight was restored."
Faith is a marvelous thing, because God reveals his glory to us in a measure that we can cope with. For those whose faith is still weak, Jesus brings enough light into lives that they can understand, feed on and grow. To those whose faith is stronger, he reveals more of himself, again so that they might grow even more.
That's the wonderful thing about Jesus. Knowing him is a continuous journey through life; not a once in a lifetime explosion of light, but a succession of experiences and touches in our lives, where we suddenly realize that we are in the presence of our Saviour and what an illuminating experience that is.
To yet others, the touch of Jesus is THE REASSURING TOUCH. At the mount of Transfiguration, when Jesus was seen in the presence of Moses and Elijah, the disciples fell onto the floor in absolute terror. But we read that Jesus came up and touched them. "Get up," he said. "Don't be afraid."
How many moments in our lives do we need that same reassuring touch from the Lord. How often do we need to hear those words 'Don't be afraid.' spoken with the confidence and assurance that the disciples heard on that wonderful day.
But that's exactly what the touch of Jesus can bring to our lives when we need it.
To some it was the LIBERATING TOUCH that Jesus brought.
In Mark chapter 7 we can read of the deaf and dumb man. Jesus put his fingers into the man's ears. Then he spat and touched the man's tongue. at this the man's ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.
To many the touch of Jesus brings, not necessarily the same miraculous healing, but perhaps a new confidence based on the knowledge that each one of us is counted precious in the eyes of God; that for once we feel able to speak openly about our faith, whereas in the past we had counted that as something very private, lacking perhaps the confidence to speak out for fear of being challenged.
And of course, the touch of Jesus also was the HEALING TOUCH to so many who came into contact with Him, healing both of body and of mind, of spirit and soul. For there is more to healing than the miraculous restoration of sight or hearing, or the curing of leprosy. For healing touches every part of our lives, both physically and spiritually.
To many, the healing comes as broken lives are made whole again; to some the healing is a very physical release from suffering; to others it is an inner healing a restoration of the spiritual bond between creator and creation - a being made right again.
The touch of Jesus means different things to different people, and different things at different times in a person's life. The important thing to remember is that where the need is great, then Jesus is there to touch. What is needed is the faith of the leper, of the blind and dumb man and the many others who were humble enough to admit that they were in need, and recognized that Jesus was the only one who could satisfy that need.
Jesus shows compassion, but is also angered by the sight of suffering in His world, His creation. It is a symptom of dis-ease, of something that is no longer functioning as it was intended.
But for Jesus to touch us, we must be willing to reach out and touch him. If we will do that, if we will recognize that here stands the one who can bring cleansing, quieting, illumination, reassurance, liberation and healing then he will reach out and touch our lives, and with that touch bring wholeness.