Jesus and the man with Leprosy: the Great Exchange

Over the past few Sundays in Mark’s gospel, we have heard about various miracles and healing in the context of Jesus’ ministry.  On the one hand, these miracles represent the reality of God’s kingdom being established in the authority and the person of Jesus Christ.  On the other hand, the miracles and healing administered by Jesus reveal to us the temperament of God.  And today’s gospel reveals to us God’s self-sacrificing nature in healing the man with leprosy.
Before we can understand the importance of Jesus’ healing, we need to understand how people suffered beyond their physical condition when diagnosed with leprosy.  The Israelites thought that leprosy was a punishment from God for some type of sin that one may have committed. Strict legalism of the law of Moses was enforced, and the person with leprosy was removed and isolated from the community.  The sentencing for this man’s infirmity was executed swiftly and, was unusually cruel.  
No one was allowed, including family and friends, to visit the leper, otherwise, they risked becoming unclean both physically and spiritually.  When people approached him, or likewise, he would have to yell to them that he was unclean.  His life ceased to exist.

  In a certain sense, this man’s life became the literal translation of “sin”; sin meaning a complete separation from God.  Therefore, if a person was lucky enough to be cured from their infirmity, it was considered by the Israelite people to be on the same level as raising a person from the dead.
As we heard in today’s gospel, Jesus does heal this man with leprosy.  Jesus heals his physical condition which, in turn, restored him to his community, to his loved ones, to his work, and to worship.  This man literally gets his life back.    

In the bigger picture, the God in Jesus takes this man’s place in his uncleanness, in his sufferings and in his sins.  In a unique way Jesus exchanges place with this man so that he could live again.  In this great exchange, it clearly shows something different about God that was not previously understood by God's chosen people.  

Jesus reveals that God is not interested punishing humanity for their sins.  Rather, God takes on our exile, our desperation and our imperfections so that we can fully live.  Proof of the latter is when Jesus touches the unclean man.  Christ takes on what this man feared the most: a lonely existence; the finality of death because of sin; and being left without the opportunity to really live in freedom.    
The disclaimer is that God gives us the freedom to make a choice to ask for forgiveness and mercy.  If we do ask Jesus for help, it is evident that God will do the heavy lifting.  Jesus will take our place, even our iniquities, in order to bring us back into his sheepfold, not away from it.

As a result, we have much to be thankful for.   Our God who in infinite wisdom, mercy and sacrifice has won for us inclusion within the body of Christ no matter our faults, illnesses, or sins.  Amen.

By Rev. Billy Isenor
Last Sunday in Epiphany

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