READ: Mark 1:40-45
The curtain rises. There is a scene change. There is no background noted. The simple scene is an exchange between Jesus and another man who is kneeling before him by the side of the road. This is a healing story of a man with leprosy.
We do not hear much about leprosy in the United States. About 100 new cases of leprosy are reported by the US government each year. Meanwhile, there were about 215,000 new cases of leprosy worldwide in 2014. The goal of the World Health Organization is diagnosis, treatment and education. When I was visiting our missions in the island nation of Madagascar, I was amazed to learn of and experience the daily healing services at the Lutheran toby (healing center). The origin of the revival movement began in 1894 through the prayers and faithfulness of a lay catechist trained through the Norwegian Mission Society whose name was Betsileo Dada Rainisoalambo. He suffered with a skin disease so he prayed and was instructed by God in a vision to dispose of his healing medicines and over time he was healed.
When I visited a toby, I found a contingent of evangelists and healers as well as a community of residents on the premises who were there for daily prayer and healing including many being treated for leprosy. Several times a day public prayers are offered for healing, the preaching the Gospel and exorcisms. To learn more about the revival and prayer movement in Madagascar, check out on Amazon: Cynthia Holder Rich, The Fifohazana: Madegascar’s Indigenous Christian Movement, Amherst: Cambria Press, 2008.
Eduard Schweizer writes: Leprosy is a dreaded disease because it excludes one from the general population and thus from the people of God. The afflicted one must cry from a distance, “Unclean, unclean,” so that no one will approach him (Leviticus 13:45). The rabbis considered him a living corpse and his cure as difficult as a resurrection from the dead, (ibid. p. 57). Another name for leprosy is Hanson’s Disease and in biblical times sufferers were to tear their clothes and mess up their hair to make identification easier. The mucus from the nose, mouth or even eyes is the primary source of transferring this disease to another.
The man who seeks healing from Jesus puts himself in the posture of humility on his knees. He begs Jesus to be healed as he expressed trust: if you choose, you can make me clean (v. 40). Put another way: you can make me clean, if you choose. Jesus responded by touching him and saying “Be made clean.” Jesus became unclean according to the law as expressed in Leviticus 14, for the sake of healing an isolated and suffering sick man.
It is the mandatory isolation of the individual suffering from leprosy that has to be one of the biggest downsides to this disease. The process of going and showing yourself to the priest (as if they had any medical training) on a weekly basis was part of the process for over a thousand years (Leviticus 13 and 14). Only the priest could restore a person back to community after being deemed “clean.”
Was Jesus moved by pity or anger? Schweizer writes: Jesus’ anger (the ancient reading is ‘was angry’ and not ‘filled with pity’) applies to the horror of the misery which accompanied the disease (cf. John 11:33-38), which is contrary to God’s plan of creation as in the action of the demons in Mark 1:24f (ibid. p. 58). In the same way that Jesus set people free from demon possession, he set the man with leprosy free from this isolating disease. Jesus came to restore people to God, to their family and community. The church is called and sent to restore people in our own families and community in the same way. This was hard work for Jesus and for us. This is an important community-restoring calling.
Part of that restorative process was to honor the system that was in place: “Go show yourself to the priest.” Mark again tells of the growth of the kingdom so much so that people were coming from all over to see Jesus.
Jackie and I never pursued much of her past which may have in fact had quite a bit of pain. Why do I say that? Many of the people I have met in life that are giants of prayer and champions of faith have come to that place because of the pain that broke them open like the broken jar of anointing nard the woman uses to anoint Jesus’ head (Mark 14:3). When I think of Jackie, I think of a person who just loved to pray. Like a number of other sweet people who have impacted my life, I miss Jackie!
Jackie was always looking for opportunities to pray and creative ways to pass on her passion for prayer to others. She would say to me, “If only they could experience the joy and wonder of being in Jesus’ presence, I know they would want to pray.” The determination and faith of this woman was catchy and delightful. There was a passion and playfulness in her eyes.
One of the first people to make an appointment to meet with me was Jackie. She had a file filled with examples from all of the prayer events and activities she had developed over the years. Those red lips which were ready to smile as we discussed her ideas. Jackie was a unique and very special child of God whose heart I am sure beat very closely in alignment with God. She touched a lot of lives including mine. My life is fuller because of the time Jackie gave me.
When her body gave out, Jackie is one of those people with whom I wanted more time. That is not how life works. I thank God for Jackie and the way she showed me that pure child-like trust of God as experienced in prayer. “I think this will be good pastor and people will want to participate so let’s give it a try, ok?” Jackie said to me with a warm smile.
- What situation in your life brought forth your most urgent prayer?
- What captures your attention in this story?
- How would you describe the situation in the life of the man with leprosy?
- What do you take away from this story?