A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, “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.” But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.
There are a lot of places to jump in to this story. We could talk about the Leper’s lack of protocol, how he approaches Jesus, against the law, failing to give proper warning of his condition.
We could talk about how the Leper fails to follow the one direction that Jesus gives him, even after receiving the requested healing, and the consequence for Jesus of his blabber-mouthing.
But what I really want to focus on today is a phrase that is used to describe the reason for Jesus’ actions toward the Leper, because getting our heads around this word, gives us clues about what motivates Jesus, and what motivates us for action.
In the reading today the phrase is translated, as “moved to pity”, and that’s not a bad translation. Jesus was “moved to pity”, and so chooses to cleanse this leper.
But if you do a little comparing of bible translation you might find a few other interpretations. Some bibles read here that Jesus was “moved to compassion. Still others say, Jesus was “moved to anger,” which seems like a quite different feeling than compassion or pity!
The word phrase literally means, “to be moved in the bowels”, and while it is clear that we’re not talking about the after effects of a bowl of chili, we’re not entirely sure just how to translate this word in this context. Is it compassion? Is Jesus deeply moved at the plight of this poor leper?
Is it pity? Does he just feel sorry for the poor guy, and act in a way to get him out of the picture?
Is it anger? That too, is a possibility. Jesus might be angered at the society that keeps such people as outcasts. Or he may be angry about the broken state of God’s good creation, where demons and diseases seem to be everywhere and oppressing everyone.
Or, it is just as possible that Jesus may be ticked off that this leper has broken so many rules! Here he is, in a crowd of people, disregarding everyone else’s need for ritual purity to just get his own needs met! What are you doing here? What choice do I have, really, be made clean, now go do what you’re supposed to do for crying out loud, show yourself to the priest, and don’t make a big scene about this!
How will we determine what moves Jesus here, and does it make a difference?
The 2006 Winter Olympics Torino Italy chose for its slogan and theme the phrase “Passion Lives Here.” It seemed an appropriate choice.
You don’t have to be a big fan of sports to have seen a few highlights of Olympic events, and to look upon highlights from an Olympic competition is to have a glimpse into the complexity of human emotions.
Watch the faces. Watch the faces of the victors, and of those disappointed, and notice how similar they can be!
You cross the finish line as a winner and there is a first trace of elation, and then the pounding pain, and the exhaustion, and the welling of emotion, that become almost indistinguishable from the pain and exhaustion and emotion that comes across the face of the loser.
Passion shows itself in the face, but it is felt in the gut, and caring deeply is always a complex thing! Maybe that gives us an insight into how to understand this Gospel story. Think of all the things packed into the moment, on the part of either winners or losers. There is elation, regret, hope, frustration, exhilaration, relief, sadness, joy, — all at the same time.
Passion lives in that athlete, whether winner or loser, he or she has put their whole being into the service of just one thing, the quest for the Gold!
Passion lives in Jesus!
He has put his whole life into the service of just one thing, the quest for proclaiming the Kingdom!
What we have in Mark’s Gospel is the record of a look on the face of Jesus! He is “moved in the gut”, by the Leper, and depending upon how you read his face at this moment you might get compassion or you might get pity or you might get anger, but what you do get to be sure to get is the fact that he is moved!
And because he is moved, he makes a choice to take action.
This is where the text leaps across the centuries for us.
When was the last time you were moved to action? When was the last time you had something move you in the bowels, and not like a bowl of bad chili, but like a feeling that you had to get up and do something about it!
When people walk into this congregation, do they get a sense that passion lives here?
Do you get a sense that we care deeply about some things, and that those are the things that move us to action? Move us to make a difference in this world. Move us to proclaim the Kingdom of Godl. We do this, to make the world look like this because it is a reflection of God’s good and gracious vision for how the world should be under God’s dominion?
What would you identify as the things that we do with passion?
I think that we as human beings have a need for passion. We need to be moved in the gut, and if we aren’t moved in the gut by a common mission, a common direction that furthers God’s Kingdom, then we will seek something to be passionate about. We will seek something that moves us.
Sometimes, what we seek to be passionate about can become self serving, and can lead us into places where we end up eating ourselves up, and doing no good for the Kingdom. We get passionate about policy, or the color of the carpet, or a change in service. We get all “torn up in the gut” over a conflict, or an event, or a decision made. You don’t have to be in a church for very long to find out what will move some people, and what will not.
In Mark’s Gospel, the action, the choice that Jesus takes leading to healing because he’s “moved in the gut” ends up complicating things for Jesus, even though and maybe precisely because the Kingdom is proclaimed.
There are some things it appears, that even Jesus can’t control.
He can’t make the Leper comply with his directions.
He can’t move about freely as he once did after this Leper blabs all over what Jesus has done for him.
Such is the case when passion takes hold, when things begin to move deep within. You may not be able to control them all. You may find things happening that are complex, unpredictable, and difficult to interpret. Those are all signs, you know, of the work of the Holy Spirit.
Does passion live here?
We will know if it does by what we choose to do, what we choose to have move us deeply and by what happens in the wake of our choices. May out choices made proclaim the coming of God’s Kingdom, and life and health for those who desperately long for it.