The Leper and the Lady.
Time for spring garden cleanup! Now understand with me that gardening in North Carolina is a totally different thing than was my year-round flower growing in Southern California1—and it is quite a learning curve. I love the change of seasons here, where Spring is currently waiting at the door. It brings with it a feeling of anticipation—and for the gardener, out with the old to prepare the way for the new.
So, yesterday morning I headed to my local Town & Country to purchase garden waste bags.2 I found this lovely contraption that slides down in the tall paper bag to hold it open, give it some stability, while I rake up bag after bag of pine needles.
Holding it under my arm, I turned to exit an aisle and realized I could easily have banged into an older lady walking by, arm hooked into her husband’s for support. ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I could have knocked you right down!’ I said to her. Her reply, ‘Oh I know I look unstable, but I promise you I’m not drunk, it is the brain tumors.’ Instantly, I felt a pang run through me. ‘Brain tumors . . . this lovely lady is struggling with brain tumors?!’
It shook me to my core.
Segue – back to Jesus. In the final few verses of Mark chapter one we read,
And a man with leprosy came to Jesus, imploring Him and kneeling down, and saying to Him, “If you are willing, You can make me clean.” Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out with His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed. And He sternly warned him and immediately sent him away, and He said 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 news around, to such an extent that Jesus could no longer publicly enter a city, but stayed out in unpopulated areas; and they were coming to Him from everywhere. Mark 1.40-4
As I drove away from the hardware store, I was thinking of the contrast between the woman who appeared to have nothing whatsoever wrong with her—hair and makeup done, nicely dressed, smiling and friendly—and the man who came to Jesus, his affliction obvious from the sores and infection on his leprous skin. Contrast.
As for the man who came to Jesus, he violated the accepted law of the land3 by not announcing from a distance, “Unclean,” so that people could avoid being contaminated by him, or worse, being infected by him. Being ‘clean’ or conversely ‘unclean’ was a very large matter in Jesus’ day. Clean – you could go to the Temple to worship, visit the market for vegetables, eat dinner with your family; unclean – you could do none of the above. For the leper, to be clean was to be well, to be healed.
And as for Jesus? It is the first time Mark notes Jesus doing something shockingly extraordinary, though it will not be the last. Jesus does the unthinkable—he touches the leper. Yikes. Why does Jesus touch him? Because he was moved with compassion, he could not help himself.
Compassion is not the same as empathy. Jesus could have felt sorrow or even pain for what the man’s life was like—empathy—and yet continued with his day. But because he was moved with compassion, he had to heal the man. Not through yet, Jesus instructed the man to go show himself to the priest who would pronounce him “clean”…why? Because it was Jesus’ heart for the man to be fully restored—to his family and with his community.
Isn’t that just like Jesus? Jesus was interested in all of this man, and desired for him to be whole.
As for the hardware store lady, though I had empathy for her, it did not enable me to heal her, but I know the One who is able. Along with the leper, I know Jesus does not heal everyone, difficult as it is to understand. One day we will “know” as we will see him face to face,4 but for now, we take everything to him in prayer, and entrust it all to him. Entrusting all to God means especially those things we cannot control or change, those things that cause our hearts to ache, which we cannot understand. . . knowing that what he says to you and me is true.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.5
And though we do not understand his ways, the Jesus who met the leper that day shows us not only how incredibly powerful he is, but how inexplicably good he is as well.
The Footsteps of Jesus in the gospel of Mark, 7.
1 – Before my move to North Carolina two years ago, beautiful San Clemente by the Sea had been my home for 21 years; before that, Northern California—the Bay Area specifically.
2 – No such luxury here as a garden waste bin and weekly pick up
3 – The Law concerning leprosy spelled out in Leviticus 13 and 14
4 – 1 Corinthians 13.12
5 - Isaiah 55.8-9
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