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Tony's Reflection 33
The quiet cloisters of Eton have been in uproar, this weekend.
Popular English teacher William Knowland has been sacked and the students are rising up in his defence.
Why has he been fired? For the heinous crime of posting an online lesson saying there are in-born psychological differences between men and women.
Do you believe there are such differences between the genders? My wife, for example, is convinced a man can never make a good cleaner. “Men just don’t see dirt,” she says.
We have a story from Mark
today about Jesus doing some “cleaning” so to speak. Despite my wife’s expectations, this man Jesus cleaned very thoroughly.
Just in case you are wondering, Jesus doesn’t put on a pinny and pick up a mop. He was involved in a very different kind of cleaning…
Jesus has healed a whole crowd of people. All of the seriously sick in the town where Peter had lived had come thronging to him and he had cured them.
Then one man comes. All on his own. Why hadn’t he come with the crowd? This man had something so awful wrong with him, he had no choice. This man was a leper…
The experts aren’t sure about how closely “leprosy” in Jesus’ day matched what we know of the disease now. Whatever the exact nature of the disease the man had, history gives us plenty of detail about what it was like to have leprosy back then.
This skin disease was horribly disfiguring and extremely contagious. Lepers’ faces were so hideous, they had to keep the bottom half of their face covered. They weren’t allowed to live in towns or villages, they had to stay outside, on their own, in the deserts. Everywhere they went, they had to shout out, “Unclean, unclean” so everyone would give them a wide berth. The smell of rotting flesh would make you stay away, anyway. You could smell them before you heard them and just the smell would send you into retreat.
Back then, it was your religious duty to stay away from everyone and everything which was unclean. You wouldn’t even touch someone like that, or accidentally brush against them. One Jewish teacher boasted that he was so keen to stay away from these unclean lepers, he would throw stones at them to stop them coming near him.
This leper came running up to Jesus and fell on his knees before him.
He knew what the Jewish religious teachers would have done. They would have run a mile, or worse. Anyone in their right mind would have recoiled in horror at being that close to him.
The man is desperate. No one else will come near him, no one else will even touch him. He knows he is revolting and disfigured. But he knows Jesus has the power to make him clean again. If only he can get close enough to Jesus to ask him… but even if he could get close enough, what will Jesus do? Everyone else shrinks back at the very sight of him, with a look of revulsion on their faces.
The man buries his hideous face, covered in open, weeping sores, in the dust at Jesus feet. He cannot bear to look up. He fears Jesus cannot bear to look at him. He blurts out his request to be made clean. He tenses and quivers there in the dirt, dreading the rejection that he knows so well.
He instinctively jumps and recoils as he feels a touch from Jesus. A touch. He had forgotten what a touch from another living person was like. This isn’t a touch to push him away, either. It’s a touch of tenderness. Of acceptance. Of compassion.
His heart melts inside him, as he hears the voice of Jesus saying, “Be clean.” There is warmth in that voice and in that moment healing wholeness gently pulses through his body. The open sores dry out, skin that was hard and flaky becomes soft again.
The leprosy has gone.
The man is clean. He can go into the town, into the marketplace. He doesn’t have to hide himself away any more. He can melt into a crowd, once more. There is no pointing, no staring, no running away when he passes by. He can look in a mirror, without feeling sick in the bottom of his soul.
He will even be allowed to mix freely in the synagogue (Jewish church) and go to the temple again. He will be one of God’s people, once more.
Jesus had made him clean.
Later on, Jesus will explain that it is not what’s on the outside, like a skin disease, which makes us unclean. It’s what comes out from inside - that’s what makes us unclean. Evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly
. There is more besides. You get the picture.
There are times when we feel utterly defiled by what is inside us. What is in our dark side would make anyone “holy” run a mile. How could Jesus look on that?
Jesus touched the leper, though and made his skin clean, when he asked. Jesus didn’t judge or condemn, he had compassion.
Jesus will touch you and make your heart clean, if you ask. He won’t judge or condemn you, either. He will have compassion.