Then a man with a serious skin disease came to Him and, on his knees, begged Him: “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out His hand and touched him. “I am willing,” He told him. “Be made clean.”
The secret fear of not fitting in, or even being ostracized, is one that most of us carry around—at least at some point in our lives.
The success of movies like Breakfast Club and The Perks of Being a Wallflower remind us that adolescent angst and awkwardness are common experiences. We can relate to the pit in the stomach of walking into the school cafeteria and discovering there isn’t a seat at the table for us and we’re left to eat our lunch alone.
We never fully outgrow these fears, do we? So we work hard to blend in, be accepted, and experience some sense of belonging and community, even if it’s on the island of misfit toys.
The music on our iPods is often driven by the musical taste of our peers. And as we get older, we continue to join clubs, do activities, and buy clothes, cars, and houses that will help us be seen as a worthy member of a particular group of people.
In Mark 1:40-45, we see that a man with a serious skin disease came to Jesus begging for a request: “If you are willing, You can make me clean.” What did he mean? It almost sounds like he didn’t doubt Jesus’ ability (the harder part), but His willingness.
One of the characters in The Perks of Being a Wallflower is Sam, a girl who has a habit of choosing the wrong guys who always make her feel small. When she asks her friend Charlie why this is, he offers the following: “We accept the love we think we deserve.”
Sam had come to see herself as someone who didn’t deserve much, and this was reflected in her choice of boyfriends who didn’t treat her well.
Perhaps this leper came to Jesus believing he didn’t deserve much. He knew he was unclean. And as an outcast, he was financially and socially isolated, dependent on charity. To say the least, he wasn’t a valued member of society.
People were afraid of him and avoided him, perhaps because of his appearance, or maybe because they were afraid of contracting the disease themselves. His cleansing meant not only physical healing, but also the possibility to be restored to his community. What family members and friendships was he forced to leave behind?
But did he deserve it? Did his exterior also put off Jesus? Was Jesus also One who would walk away to avoid contact for fear of becoming unclean?
Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out His hand and touched him: “I am willing. Be clean.” Jesus didn’t turn away in disgust or fear. He compassionately healed the man. His love, mercy, and power are such that His touch, instead of making Himself unclean, made the leper clean.
Afterward, Jesus instructed the man to tell no one except the priest and offer what the Law had prescribed for cleansing.
Two questions arise:
1. Why was the man not to tell anyone?
We find Jesus offering this same instruction to others in the Gospels (see Matthew 9:30, 12:16, 16:20, 17:9). Perhaps He didn’t want people following Him simply to observe His miracles. Also, Jesus knew His popularity and teaching would come into conflict with the religious and political authorities and would eventually lead to His death. At that time, it seemed, His “time had not yet come” (see John 7:6, 8, and 30).
2. Why did Jesus instruct him to go to the priest?
Yes, it was in observance of the Law, and surely that’s part of the reason (see Leviticus 14:2-31). Also, this miracle would’ve been a witness of Jesus to the priest. But maybe, most importantly, showing himself to the priest was a way of officially being declared socially clean and being reintroduced to the community.
The Good News of Jesus Christ isn’t simply about the vertical (our relationship with God) but also about the horizontal (our relationship with one another). The gospel is a message of reconciliation (see 2 Corinthians 5:18-21). We’re reconciled to God (Ephesians 2:1-10) and to one another (Ephesians 2:11-22).
Being a member of God’s family means that God places us in community, into a place of belonging. We’re instructed, even commanded, to love one another. There are no outcasts in God’s family. Whatever our differences—racial, economic, educational, marital status, talents, personality, or nationality—we belong to one another.
We meet Jesus who has compassion on us. He makes us clean. And then, He places us in community with His other followers.
The love He demonstrates to us who often feel undeserving is the same love He asks us to demonstrate to a world wrecked by isolation and loneliness. Perhaps the message most compelling in our broken, fractured world isn’t the message “to believe in order to belong,” but “to belong and then you can believe.”
With no fear of becoming contaminated or unclean, we offer this same message of hope and reconciliation to an unconnected world: “Come belong to God and to His family. Your uncleanness doesn’t exclude you. You’re welcome and accepted here.”
- Looking at Mark 1:40, what do you think were the fears, insecurities, or inner questions of the leper as he fell at the feet of Jesus?
- Specifically, why do you think Jesus was moved with compassion? What made Him feel love and pity?
- Think of a time in your life when you felt like an outsider. What were the circumstances? How did this make you feel?
- On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your experience of community with other people and fellow believers? Is there something you could do to improve this score?
- How can you invite those outside the faith to experience a place of acceptance and belonging, in order to demonstrate the compassion of Christ?