From Mark Chapter 1.
A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.
In my mind, this true story from the Bible happened like this.
He had lost count of how many weeks since he got sick. Like a bomb in a Baghdad market, it just happened. It started when Levi saw a white patch on his arm when he went out to work the sheep. He poked it and it felt funny. ‘No worries. It will be all right’. But his worries had started there.
Yacov his cousin noticed it that day, and whispered to him at lunch: “You oughta see a doctor right away”. Doctor after doctor he saw, and none could help him, but they all took his money. The white patch spread to his shoulder. He lost all feeling in his skin wherever it went. When the bottom of his face went numb, his smile became lop sided and he looked gross. He wore a bandage to hide it. Everyone had noticed it now, and children stared at his bandaged face and neck, as though he was…, like he was,… it is hard to say it… like he was a leper. He had leprosy. They all believed back then that it was highly infectious. There was more panic around him than swine flu. You are ‘Unclean’ they sniped.
The officials told him he had to leave home immediately for the sake of his wife and children. No touch allowed. But how will I live without them? And furthermore he couldn’t go to work anymore for the sake of the other workers and their families. They made him wear a badge that said: Unclean. But how will I earn my food and housing? How will my family live?
He wasn’t allowed to go to church anymore, for the sake of the other families. No touch allowed. He couldn’t go to the shops or markets. Unclean. How will I eat? Or get clothes? or blankets? How can I ever survive? Is there no one I can be with – how will I stop from going insane? No touch allowed.
Week after week, month after countless month, as far as he was concerned the disease wasn’t fast enough. He wanted it to end. He could see his wife in tears only from a distance. He could watch his children play and go to school but they could only wave. No hugs, no kiss, no handshake, no drying of tears, no touch, none at all. The wasting face of the disease was ugly and they couldn’t even bear to look at him now. He felt like he was stuck somewhere in outer space. The pain of going on alive, so alone, was more than the pain of the wasting disease. ‘Life goes on’ other people used to say to him and he wished, wild and deep in his guts, that it didn’t.
Then Jesus came to the village. Levi had heard about him, and his healings. Why not try him? Levi couldn’t go in to the village, of course, so he had to hang around on the road out of town and just hope that Jesus came out that way. When he saw him coming, Levi’s heart jumped. Despite the hot sun, a small crowd also came with him, damn it, and Levi had to withdraw, hang back, out of the way and off the road, wanting the space to approach Jesus.
Jesus just kept along the road, walking with strength and purpose, but they didn’t go back. Jesus came another 50m closer and Levi had to back off yet again – no touch, unclean.
‘Maybe he won’t care after all. Maybe his eyes are for someone else. Maybe, maybe, oh I’ve had too many maybes too many doctors too many crushed hopes. And here goes another one. He isn’t even looking this way. He won’t want to see me. If he comes near me they will send him to weeks in quarantine and look at how busy he is, how many people want him. He has healed so many, taught such wonderful news. Not me. He won’t want to help me, …but …his heart jumped up.
“Jesus!” he shouted with an angry challenge, “you want to heal me!…don’t ya?”
Jesus looked suddenly, past the little crowd and saw a leper standing back, hiding away from the road. He saw Levi’s ‘unclean’ badge. Finding his face, their eyes locked and a smile appeared at the bottom of Jesus’ face. The little chattering crowd fell nervously behind as Jesus swung across the road, walked lightly around the bushes, straight up to the guy half-hidden in rags and shame and rage and badge and bandage fifty metres away.
Jesus reached out and touched him. It felt like meteor strike. So when jesus said: “I do want to. Be clean”, Levi knew he was.
That’s the end of the story. You might like to wonder why I reckon Jesus smiled.
Like a leper , some of us are convinced that Jesus’ eyes are not for us, that Jesus’ smile is not for us, that Jesus’ love is for someone else, or some other place or some other time, maybe. Jesus cares about it. We probably all go that way at some time. Jesus cares about it. Is our problem too big for God to fix? Jesus cares about it. Is our problem too small for God to bother? Jesus cares about it.
All through scripture, Jesus welcomes in the stranger who doesn’t fit our social scene. Many many times, he gives a prime place to the weak and the poor, and sends the rich away empty. Many many times, he lifts women from the obscurity created by men, heals the sick, enlightens the religious and the nominal alike, sends the Holy Spirit into those who seek him, and guides the humble of heart into fullness of life. What a Saviour!
When my firstborn was lying badly burnt and in surgery, I discovered that Jesus cared about it. He is weaving a fabric of such a glory that is way beyond my imagining.
When I burnt out in ministry and got angry and exhausted with demands, I was shown how, despite my mistakes, Jesus cared about it. Others were healed when they timidly reached out to touch me.
When I finally faced the years and the stripes of abuse that fell upon me as a son, I looked back with different eyes and saw that Jesus has done something beautiful with my brokenness. I am so passionate now about the Father’s love.
When I am tangled deep in my own selfishness, beyond the pale, angry and ashamed, even there his kindness and gentleness have found me. His light turns my formless shame into a nameable guilt and this guilt he washes with forgiveness and restores me to my destiny.
Does all this describe you, my Christian friends? Is it not a great wonder that Jesus cares so much and so little, and so long for so many in such kindly care of the exact needs of each of our lives in detail. No wonder we say this love, his grace is ‘amazing.’ Glory to God!
Now here is the easy bit and the hard bit, all in one.
The main way we experience the care and compassion of Jesus is from one another. IT isn’t the only way. I told a story here a few weeks ago about how God himself came to me and cared for me in my desperation, but very few of you responded with a similar account. The main way we experience the care and compassion of Jesus is from one another. What is more, that is why we are here on the planet. Each one of us is uniquely made so we will love others in a unique way. Each one has a gift or two from the Great and Holy Spirit so that we will serve others uniquely and generously. It’s not rocket science. People are made for ‘the shelter of each other’ as one author put it.
So strong is this impulse in God that when something goes wrong in our messed up world, God does not send lightning bolts but sends a someone, to share and to help. Simple and good and profound.
Which is also where we get to the hard part – do we go where and when we are sent?
Maybe God will send individuals, like Peter sent to the centurion at Caesarea, or like Philip sent to the Ethiopian eunuch, or like the German doctor Albert Schweitzer sent to the Africans at Lambarene, or like Hudson Taylor sent to take the gospel in chinese clothing and language to China, or like countless unnamed Christians who have offered a word or a deed as unsung unnoticed mirrors of the ceaseless kindness of God . God sends someone, maybe you. Where God sends, God supplies.
At other times, the Bible records, he sends a nation to sort it out – I imagine in my own mind that that is a desperation measure, even for God, probably after many had refused to do what they were sent to do. When 6 million Jews were incinerated by the Nazis how many remained silent? And how many didn’t? When the Aboriginal children were removed from the parents, how many white folks simply believed the nice man with his racist propaganda? And how many didn’t?
What have we done about governments that refuse to deliver on their promise to make poverty history by 2015, while they easily find trillions to make wealth wealthier? Broken marriages and youth suicide are at epidemic proportions so who will go where and when God says to go?
You know what I fear most in life? Not that God’s call will be dangerous, not that it may cost me everything. My greatest fear in Christian life is that I will be too dull to hear it and too habituated to selfishness to go. If I don’t go, or if I don’t care and share enough, if I make a token effort out that is only out of my surplus time or cash, the consequence is that people will suffer longer, or more people will suffer. Isn’t that the picture of the world today?
And if I don’t go, God, ceaseless in kindness, absolutely unstoppable in his resolve to knit people together in love in the world he made for us, will move on and send someone else who will do it. And I will be left behind, left to languish in an outer circle of God’s will, smiling, dull, nice, religious and floating in my own self-importance like a plastic bag washed up on the river.
Let me show you biblically why I paint this so boldly. Kindness and caring is so central to Jesus that it is his clearest picture of the Last Judgement. To the point of fourfold repetition he describes what sort of faith he is looking for. On that last Great Day He will not, he says, ask us to articulate our theological position on inerrancy or our moral position on homosexuality or abortion. Only the Pharisees liked that stuff. Jesus says:
Mt 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Deeds of caring compassion that would be typical of being done BY Jesus are here said to be done TO Jesus. That is the faith that saves. So simple. Yes, the caring Jesus sends his caring friends to a broken world, to care for one another as we care for his world.
Jn 13:34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
Jn 13:35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
The ceaseless caring compassion of God is predominantly seen in this world through his caring compassionate friends of Jesus, who do good thing on a routine basis, and in the darkest places, and hopeless cases. One of ancient Desert Fathers of the church, St Anthony said: “our life and death is with our neighbour’. IF we are not being sent to care and to bless , we have no life within us.
Every one of us can do this. Maybe we cant take minutes but we can care. Maybe we cant organise a major social impact project, but we can care for one. Maybe we feel we barely have any faith and we understand it even less so we aren’t very good at faith-sharing – share that much in love and all will be well. And when we find we need to know something more, God will lead us to someone who will help us. Everyone of us who has learned a little of the caring compassion of Jesus toward us, can share that. That is probably all we can share, according to 2 Cor 1, so do just that. NO more and no less.
Father, send us. We are listening.
Father, send us. You are all we need.
Father, send us. Amen