Mark uses miracle stories in his gospel to illustrate a point the way Matthew and Luke use parables for that purpose in theirs. Jesus’ cleansing of a leper as recorded in Mark 1:40-45 is an example.
A man who was afflicted with leprosy confronted Jesus. The leper broke the code of ceremonial cleanliness just by speaking to Jesus. It was a very bold thing to do. Here is one who is considered unclean and wretched by his people because he has contracted a hideous disease. Leprosy represented sin to the people of Jesus’ day and, like sin, it was considered contagious, more to be cleansed than healed.
A leper was banished from the community and had to dwell alone or with other lepers outside the community. This man had to go about with torn clothes, bared head, and a covering upon his upper lip. As he went, he was required to give warning of his polluted presence with the cry, “Unclean! Unclean!” The leper had not only to bear the physical pain of his disease, he had to bear the mental anguish and heartbreak of being completely banished from human society and totally shunned. So, it is incredible that he would approach Jesus at all, let alone dare to speak to him.
Even more remarkable than that is the fact that Jesus responded to him as he did. He could have run away. He could have had the leper killed. He could have reacted with horror. But he didn’t. Instead, we are told in the story that his response was one of compassion and understanding. Jesus was “moved with pity.” He broke the code and defiled himself when he reached out and touched the leper. In so doing, his power over evil was demonstrated by a miraculous cure. He broke the law and, at the same time, he fulfilled it.
Then he sent the man to the priest and in so doing placed before the religious establishment a difficult problem. Only the priest could certify the cure. To reject it would be to break the code. To accept it would be to acknowledge Jesus’ power and authority. To make matters even worse, this cleansed leper couldn’t keep all of this to himself, even though Jesus had asked him to. Is it any surprise?
In this miracle story, we see that it was Jesus’ nature to be moved by the sight of human need. But sympathy isn’t worth a dime unless it leads to action. Jesus was first moved to pity, then to action. He continues to be moved to compassion and he still reaches out and touches those in need of help. People who have experienced this compassionate power find themselves moved. They become enthusiastic about life and they glorify God in whatever they do.
I’ve always enjoyed the movie Bad News Bears. In it, there is a character named Lupus. Lupus is a little boy who had a runny nose all the time and was smaller than the others. He had learned to stay in the background because that’s where everyone else told him he belonged. One day, some boys on another team put ketchup in his hat and slapped it back on his head. One of his teammates took both of them on in defense of Lupus. He lost the fight, but afterwards, Lupus said to him, “You’re the first person who ever took up for me.” A short time later, the coach sent Lupus in to play during the championship game and he actually caught a fly ball. Nothing could ever stop Lupus again because someone finally believed in him. That gave him the courage to get out of the background and take his God-given place as a full-fledged member of the team.
Like the story of the cleansing of the leper, the story of Lupus is a miracle story. It tells us what can happen on an infinitely greater plane when Jesus Christ touches a human life. His touch tells us that he believes in us and when we know that touch, we’ll never be the same. We’ll have a new perspective on life, a new confidence in ourselves, and a new ability to reach out to others, especially those who have been pushed into the background, marginalized, and condemned.
Today is a good day to keep my eyes open to watch for a miracle. Today is a good day to experience a miracle for myself. Today is a good day to help a miracle happen for someone else. God, let me live today in miraculous expectation!
The Very Reverend Ron Pogue
St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church