Mark 1: 40-45
Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him and said, “I do choose. Be made clean.”
One of the things I often think about is how Jesus came to deliver us not from sin but from religion or rather from religious practices that discriminated against people and kept them from a living a fuller and more inclusive life in society.
In the book ‘Speaking Christian’ by Marcus Borg, Borg says that sin needs to be demoted from its status as the dominant Christian metaphor for what is wrong among us (page 144). Sin he says is not the primary metaphor, not the most important one, not even a first among equals. For example in the story of the exodus sin is not the problem, slavery is the problem. The people don’t need forgiveness they need liberation.
Every week in church we have a prayer of confession followed by a declaration of forgiveness from sins we have committed. I don’t see this as a central part of Jesus’ ministry. I don’t see Jesus reminding people of their sins and then declaring that they are forgiven from their sins.
The man at the centre of the Gospel reading today is not seeking forgiveness for sin.
Here a man is desperate for healing from a skin disease which whether or not was contagious kept him from associating with his community. I can understand how in olden days where there were diseases with no known cure that people had to be excluded for the sake of others. Late one night I remember being glued to SBS television watching a Scandinavian film set in medieval times when the black death comes to a village. A mother realises that she has the plague and prevents her little daughter from coming to her by throwing stones at her until the little girl does as her mother wishes and she goes over the hills to a village that does not have the plague. It is very haunting and sad, “Madre, Madre!” the little girl cries out as her mother continues to throw stones in her direction to make her go away from her and away from joining her in a certain death.
In the book ‘Preaching and the other’ Ronald Allen writes about ‘othering’ – how we tend as individuals and cultures to promote sameness (totality, uniformity) and diminish, devalue and suppress ‘otherness’ (difference, strangeness). We tend to want to live in a world where everyone is the same as me. If I am from a white skinned, northern European privileged protestant male background, then I may want everyone to behave as I do. We thus produce a ‘McDonalds’ type world, eating the same food in every country. Allen speaks of respecting and valuing and learning from the otherness, from the other.
How did Jesus approach this man as ‘other’? As other this man was removed from his community and from his right to worship. He was excluded on a number of levels.
Jesus reached out his hand and touched him and said, “I do choose. Be made clean.” Jesus sent him on his way back to the Priest and back to his community.
Through our prayers for healing we may not always be able to help free people from illness or possession or sin but we can always and immediately resist the temptation to bind people with religious terminology to produce sameness and instead choose words that may instead liberate and bring life and send someone on their way more hopeful about life and more at peace with their own uniqueness and value in the world.