Jesus Brings a Deeper, More Comprehensive Fix (Mark 1:40-45)

christcleansingHere we have what seems to be a familiar enough story. As Jesus was going through all Galilee preaching in the synagogues and healing people, a man approaches Jesus with a particular need. Up to this point, we might expect Jesus to say a word and heal the man. After all, Jesus has places to go and people to see. He just told his disciples that He couldn’t stay put long enough to meet the requests of everyone who had needs (Mark 1:35-39). But Jesus surprises us (you would think we might get more comfortable with this, even this early in the Gospel of Mark).

Jesus touches the man and he is healed. Actually, he is “made clean.” What vexed this man was he suffered from leprosy. Today, we can distinguish between leprosy and other skin abnormalities, but in Jesus day, any skin related issue – deterioration, discoloration, deformity, etc. – would be labeled leprosy. According to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “This disease in an especial manner rendered its victims unclean; even contact with a leper defiled whoever touched him, so while the cure of other diseases is called healing, that of leprosy is called cleansing.” According to Leviticus 13-14, anyone who suffered from the affliction was to be isolated and in effect quarantined in order to contain the spread of the disease. Likewise, if anyone came in contact with someone suffering in this way, they themselves became “unclean” – a term not necessarily denoting that they became leprous, but at least susceptible to it and thus needing to “purify” themselves to become clean. This man was not in that situation.

Most likely, he would have been living with the other “outcasts” – those who because of their unclean status were forced to live outside of the city walls. It was common for these people to dwell in caves with others in similar situations. If they had loved ones or deeply committed friends, they might have a visit occasionally with the visitor bringing some kind of food, often lowering it down into the cavern. This man had no basis for hope of escaping his stations whatsoever; at least not until Jesus shows up.

Imagine the obstacles he had to overcome to come to Jesus. Wading through crowds of people that Jesus tended to attract, venturing into the city’s perimeter, even daring to cross the six-foot perimeter he needed to maintain in order to approach this popular teacher and healer.

This man implores Jesus to heal him and make him clean. And Jesus is “moved with pity.” The phrase is translated from a single word in the Greek, its splanxna, and it means “the inward parts,’ specially the nobler entrails – the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys,” and eventually would come to denote “seat of the affections.” Jesus sees this man and is moved in his inmost being.

Remember, Jesus can heal with a word; he has just done so in the verses preceding our passage here. But here it says that Jesus “touches him,” and he is cleansed. Why this peculiar detail? Is it just a demonstrable flourish for Jesus?

To a man who has spent perhaps his entire life being isolated away from others, not able to participate in the community life, always making sure he kept his distance (or rather, feeling the awkwardness and emotional devastation of watching others adamantly avoid him), this man didn’t just need physical healing from the leprosy – he needed a more comprehensive healing.

He needed one that covered his physical (cleansing from leprosy), his emotional (the touch from another person) as well as his social and even spiritual needs. Jesus goes on and doesn’t tell him to go on about his new life. Instead, Jesus directs him to present himself to the “priest” and make the acceptable offering for his cleansing to him (Mark 1:44; cf. Leviticus 14:2-32). Why bother with this at this point? Jesus had healed him. More to the point, Jesus is doing something so new and qualitatively different from the priests of his day – why bother sending the man there?

This was the accepted practice to be restored to the community at large. Jesus was telling him to go through the official, proper channels, not in order to become clean, but in order to be seen as clean. For Jesus, this is proof enough that the kingdom of God is at hand, and a new thing is being done in their midst. There’s no need for the man to go out and make a big show of what happened. Just go do what is necessary to be welcomed back into the life of the community. But the man can’t help himself. His deepest longings and wildest hopes have been met by this different kind of teacher, a different kind of healer than even he had dared possible.

How could he not tell everyone about it?

Charge to Rethink Pastoral Priorities (or Why This Might be My Least Popular Post Ever)

This past week, my wife and I spent our time in Orlando, FL at the Global Church Advancement conference (go #GCA2014). I plan to publish my thoughts on the conference as a whole later, but for now, I wanted to share what I thought was one of the highlights.

I went down a day early for the opening workshop on Discipleship led by Randy Pope of Perimeter Church in Atlanta, GA.  I’ve met Randy years ago through my involvement with Campus Outreach.  I had a sense of what to expect with this workshop having that background and some familiarity with Randy’s ministry at Perimeter.

But I wasn’t quite prepared for this statement he made.  At some point in the Q&A time, he said, “If I had to go back in my ministry, and only pick between Preaching to the masses, or Discipling the few in life-on-life missional discipleship, I would pick life on life every time.”

I know this.  Or rather, I should say, I knew this.

If you look at the impact over a longer time one could have by investing into a few who then do the same with others, the outcomes are astounding.  Plus, it seems to be Jesus’ preferred way of doing ministry.

He wasn’t as concerned with speaking venues, podcasting sermons, marketing and promoting teaching series’.  Sure he spoke to the masses, and taught as One with authority.  Sure he even went to the mountaintops where his voice could project and carry.

He did these things, but they don’t seem to be the focus.

Instead, He lived life with a few, who would later turn the world upside down.

This isn’t sexy.  This doesn’t make headlines.  This doesn’t get your name or brand out there.

But it is highly impactful to the world for spreading the gospel and seeing the change of heart/lives that come with it.

I needed that.  My soul needed that.  As I prepare to go into a season of planting a church, I know my tendency is going to be to focus on the good things, at the expense of the best thing – giving my life away to a few, in a life on life, relationally intentional, purposeful discipleship way.

For those who are interested in delving more deeply into this (and who couldn’t be at the #GCA2014 conference), let me encourage you to pick up two resources along these lines.

Insourcing: Bringing Discipleship Back to the Local Church by Randy Pope

The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman

Ground of Belief in Supernatural is Understanding Not Dismissing the Natural

Annunciation of Birth of Christ

Annunciation of Birth of Christ

Some excellent thoughts from C.S. Lewis on the place of faith, miracles and nature, related to Joseph and the Virgin Birth of Christ.  Love this highlight:

“When St. Joseph finally accepted the view that his fiancée’s pregnancy was due not to unchastity but to a miracle, he accepted the miracle as something contrary to the known order of nature… as evidence of supernatural power… Nothing can seem extraordinary until you have discovered what is ordinary. Belief in miracles, far from depending on an ignorance of the laws of nature, is only possible in so far as those laws are known…” – C.S. Lewis, Miracles

Full Article: Joseph Believed in the Miracle of the Virgin Birth – Reflections December 2012
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The Upshot of Being a Stranger in a Strange Land

This is a fascinating read on why women are out-performing men in today’s economy.

As I read it, I couldn’t help being a pastor, researcher and communicator that there might also be connections to why the Christian Church has historically tended to grow the most when it was in a position of least influence. Perhaps there really is something to being “strangers in a strange land,” or to use biblical phrasing, “aliens and exiles.”

Something to consider.

Why Men Fail – NYTimes.com (HT: David Brooks)

Less is Really More, and Beware the Hunt for the Masses

Image representing Seth Godin as depicted in C...

Image via CrunchBase

Seth’s Blog: Most people.

I am an avid reader of Seth Godin (books, blogs, anything really).  I love his ability to crystalize and disseminate wisdom that can be applied to creative (writers, artists) and organizational leaders (marketers, managers, etc.).  In this short blog, he writes on the importance of “less is more” and the danger of following after the masses.

Enjoy!

God’s New Thing

Came across this quote while doing some research work this week and thought it

Courtesy of Jonathan Grassmick

worthwhile to share.

The God who remained apparently silent on Good Friday is having the last word. He is answering the unspoken questions of Jesus’ followers, and the spoken question of Jesus himself on the cross. And what God is doing is not just an extraordinary miracle, a display of supernatural power for its own sake, or a special favour to Jesus. What God is doing is starting something new, beginning the new world promised long ago, sending the disciples to Galilee in the first place but then, as we shall see, on to the ends of the earth and the close of the age with the news of what has happened. A whole new world was opening up in front of them.”

N.T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Vol 2, (198-199), on the Great Commission in Matthew 28.

No Surprises, Please!

No surprises

No surprises (Photo credit: Pincel3d / Daniel)

I had the privilege the other week of assisting with a friend’s wedding in a Catholic wedding service.  One of the many surprises and joys of that experience was meeting and serving alongside Father Pablo Migone. He is a great guy.  I’ve enjoyed following some of his blog posts and found this one in particular to be very illuminating (Link to the whole article below).

On the nature of being surprised by God:

“I am convinced that God loves surprises…Unfortunately we oftentimes dislike surprises because they tend to destabilize things.  We want everything to be under control.  We get flustered and aggravated when things do not go exactly according to plan.  Yet consider this, had the Virgin Mary not been open to surprise and had she wanted to retain control over her life, she probably would have said “no” to the archangel.  The more open we become to the presence of God in our lives, the more He will surprise us through ordinary and extraordinary events.  The more we trust Jesus Christ has truly overcome the world, the more moldable we will become, gladly allowing His surprises to mold our will according to His own.

via Labyrinthine Mind: God of surprises.

What happens when prayer requests and acceptable sins go beneath the socially recognized surface?

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Stained glass at St John the Baptist’s Anglican Church http://www.stjohnsashfield.org.au, Ashfield, New South Wales. Illustrates Jesus’ description of himself “I am the Good Shepherd” (from the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 11). This version of the image shows the detail of his face. The memorial window is also captioned: “To the Glory of God and in Loving Memory of William Wright. Died 6th November, 1932. Aged 70 Yrs.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I wonder what would happen in my life, and the life of those in the church, if we really believed that God knows everything about us and our sins, and still loved us enough to send His Son to die for those sins? And what if He really did love us enough after that to also send us His Spirit to be free to struggle with those sins, and gave us the gift of community to help us bear up under that struggle without having to fake, hide or pretend we’re anything other than redeemed men and women?

Saw this posing by a friend on Facebook (HT: Jeff Kerr) and thought it worth re-posting here for further discussion:

In a discussion elsewhere on the interwebs, I saw this statement. I think this gets directly to the heart of why most Christians in most contexts are afraid of confessing anything beyond “disorganization” and the like:

“I visited a Mom’s Bible study at a friend’s church years ago. When it was time for prayer requests, all the other moms said, “better time management” and “get organized”. This was met with understanding clucks and nods from the other moms. When it was my turn I said, “I yell at my kids.” I got a lecture about how wrong and damaging yelling was and how concerned the leader was that I would start “hurting my kids.” There was a moralistic lecture because there was no possibility of repentence and forgiveness.

Here’s what I’ve thought since then: Since grace is so cheap these days, our sin isn’t allowed to be very bad. That leads to confessing things like disorganization. Jesus’ blood can cover that one. But REALLY bad things? There’s no cure for them, so let’s not bring them up.”

via (5) In a discussion….

Waiting Time

 

Waiting

Waiting (Photo credit: Iguanasan)

Waiting Time.

This is an interesting little parable on the effects of perception and organizational efficiency and effectiveness.

Sometimes, the “issue” isn’t really the issue.

Piss Christ, Revisited

Piss Christ

Piss Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My friend Daniel Siedell has written another excellent article over at Patheos discussing the intersection of faith, grace and life through art (see below). It is well worth your time to read what might be the best perspective I’ve heard on Serrano’s Piss Christ.  And his thoughts on what it means to be a Cultural Theologian are even better.

I remember my first exposure into both topics – Piss Christ and being a Cultural Theologian – came from my dad.  He is an artist, and I have benefited greatly from growing up in a home where art was celebrated and questions were asked that forced us to think, not just regurgitate or rearrange preconceived prejudices.  When I fist came to know Christ, I remember one such question my dad asked: “What would you do if you saw a picture of Jesus in a toilet [or jar or urine] as a work of art?”

My answer then was somewhat astute for someone my age and maturity in Christ.  I answered, “Well, Jesus was crucified in a trash heap which was the equivalent of a toilet back in his day.  Whether the artist meant it or not, I think it’s an excellent picture of the beauty and grace of God in the midst of the crap of life.”

My response has not changed to this day, and thanks to Daniel, I know now that I was on to something back then.

Enjoy!

Piss Christ, Revisited.

Addendum: To learn more about how to see and perceive art with eyes of faith, and not through culture-war jargon, I highly recommend Daniel Siedell’s book God in the Gallery (Kindle edition here)  Also, for something philosophically similar but addressing cinema and movies, I would encourage Brian Godawa’s Hollywood Worldviews (Kindle edition here).