Culture has power. Society has an influence. Some people try to hide from it. Others ignore it. Still others attempt to seclude themselves and deny it’s effect. Those who are willing, work to change it.
As you move through your day, try to be aware of your own actions and the actions of others that are influenced by the culture and society that you currently abide in. How does it make you feel about yourself? In what way does it change the way you see others?
Now, I do not ask these questions in an effort to make you believe the time in which you live is “evil” or “manipulative” or “destructive” (although they could be). In fact, societies and social pressures often improve the behavior of many people and impact individuals in a positive way.
But there is always room for improvement. We can be better, why would we not strive for that? In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Therefore, any wrong that your current society tolerates, accepts, or ignores is a threat to spread; it contains a possibility of becoming a reality for many.
This brings me to the Gospel of Mark.
As background, this story takes place in a culture dominated by the Law of Moses. Pharisees and Sadducees were the religious leaders of the time and strived to both know and keep this law at all costs and with a quite literal interpretation. Women and men with a disease such as leprosy were seen as “unclean.” The culture of that time saw them as outcasts serving a just punishment for whatever sins they or their family committed. In fact, since their diagnosis, it is very likely that somebody with leprosy never once felt the physical contact of another human.
“A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean.’ Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!'” – Mark 1:40-41 (NIV)
Now, not all translations use the word “indignant” here but rather use words like “compassion” or “pity.” However, after reading this several times, I have come to love the use of “indignant,” it seems to posses more power and depth and “realness” than the others.
According to dictionary.com, the definition of indignant is: feeling, characterized by, or expressing strong displeasure at something considered unjust, offensive, insulting, or base.
Why would Jesus feel this way towards a man diseased with leprosy?
Wasn’t his purpose to heal people?
Did healing not give him pleasure?
Or was his reaction influenced by the culture he lived in?
The latter, due to the fact that we are all influenced by those who live around us. But I would strongly disagree with the idea that Jesus was mad or even frustrated with this man.
In my opinion, it is much more likely the “indignant” feeling of Jesus rose up in reaction to the society that had crippled the self-image of this man. Jesus was not angry with this man, he was heartbroken by him.
Notice that the man does not ask Jesus if he has the ability to heal him but he asks him if he is willing.
Did Jesus have the will to heal this man?
That is what displeases Jesus. Society had told this leper he was worthless, sick, broken, unworthy, that he was a sinner, that God himself was disgusted with him.
But when Jesus saw this man, he saw none of that. He saw a creation of God, a person of worth, a human the universe spent 13.8 billion years creating, a son with whom God “is well pleased.”
I imagine Jesus lifting the mans face and looking into his eyes, with tears in his own, and speaking passionately yet softly, “I am willing… Be clean!”
Many of us have grown up in a religious culture that tells us we are unclean, we are unworthy, that we are hopeless sinners. This creates a culture of guilt, self-loathing, and hopelessness. Notice, however, that this is never the way Jesus addresses “sinners” in the Gospel stories. From this man with leprosy, to the woman at the well, to the woman caught in adultery, and even the dishonest tax-collector Zacchaeus, Jesus seems to approach them all with the same message.
You are worthy.
You are beautiful.
You are forgiven.
You are loved.
As you are, you are enough.