In this week’s Gospel passage from Mark (Mark 1:40-45), a man stricken with leprosy approaches Jesus, asking Jesus to heal him if Jesus chooses to do so. After healing the man, Jesus issues him a strict warning, insisting that the man not tell anyone about what has just occurred. But as one version puts it, the man “went out and began to proclaim it freely.”
There are two aspects of this story that stand out to me. One is puzzling; the other is challenging. The puzzling part is Jesus’ insistence that the man keep quiet about the miracle and show himself only to the priest to affirm that the healing actually took place. Wouldn’t Jesus want this man to spread the good news? Wouldn’t this miracle inspire more people to become disciples of Jesus?
We are left to wonder why Jesus would ask this of the man whose life he transformed. We do have a few clues. According to the laws of Jesus’ time, a person cured of leprosy needed to provide evidence that the cure was real and to participate in a ritual cleansing before being reinstated to society. Perhaps Jesus was concerned that if rumors of this healing reached the priests, they would not believe the man truly was healed and would keep him from living again among the regular population.
Another possibility is that Jesus was not yet ready to reveal his true identity as the Son of God. The Jews of Jesus’ time believed that only God could cure leprosy. If this man testified to the miracle that had taken place, then people would have been forced to choose: was Jesus truly God or was this a false miracle perpetrated by someone making blasphemous claims? Perhaps two thousand years before the advent of on-line bullying, identity theft, and reality television, Jesus understood the importance of trying to control the image one presents to the world. Maybe Jesus was concerned that false rumors and too much attention would adversely affect his ministry and mission.
The challenging aspect of this story, for me, is the man’s strong desire to share what has happened with everyone he meets. Of course, I understand that he is excited, having been separated from the community because of his disease. Many of us can identify with that feeling of not being able to wait to tell someone our really good news. Often good news does not seem real until we share it with someone.
What I find challenging is that the man is so ready to share something miraculous that happened to him, to talk about a close encounter with Jesus, Son of God. He doesn’t seem afraid that people might not believe him. In my life, I usually feel connected to God through my relationships with people and quiet times of prayer. But I have had a handful of experiences of close encounters with God, where it feels as if God is connecting directly with me. And unlike the man from today’s Gospel, I have not shouted these experiences from the rooftops. I have kept them to myself out of fear. I am afraid people will roll their eyes and say, “She’s just a religious freak,” or will shake their heads and say, “That’s not the way God works.” But the good news about Jesus only can be passed on when we are willing to talk about the ways God works in our lives. I do not mean badgering people until they believe what we do, but rather, having the courage to tell our stories and then to step back to see what affect they will have in the world.
So, in solidarity with the man healed from leprosy, I would like to share this story for the first time:
Like the writers in this week’s Spirit, in high school I was haunted by the sense of never quite fitting in. Freshman year my father asked me if I wanted a ride to see the boys’ basketball team in the playoffs. I spent an hour agonizing over the decision of whether to go or not and crying in my room; I loved basketball, but I was sure I would not know anyone there (or at least anyone who would talk to me) and would then have to choose between sitting alone or with my father, both of which would continue to mark me as an outsider. Even though we wore uniforms at my school, I sensed that mine never looked quite right, although I would have been hard pressed to name what separated my appearance from the appearance of those who moved with seeming effortlessness in the crowd of the social elite. In an attempt to feel better about how I looked, when I got my license, I snuck my uniform jumper to a tailor over a school break to have it shortened, worrying every day until it was done that the tailor would call my parents house, alerting my parents to what I was doing.
Halfway through my sophomore year, I had an epiphany, a term I do not use lightly. I was processing into the gym and singing with other members of the spiritual team, that is, the students who worked with the campus ministers to plan school prayer services, masses, and service opportunities. As I walked past a group of popular students from my class, I was mortified. To be seen singing at a religious event… I might as well make plans to stay at home on the weekends the rest of my life. In a flash of realization, I knew I was never going to fit in, at least not in the conventional, high school sense of the term. I was never going to be a popular girl or achieve the right look or maybe even have a boyfriend. And I also realized in the same instant that this was okay, that I was okay how I was, that maybe being religious and academic and athletic and having a few close friends was better than worrying about whether I was in style or popular. I truly felt the hand of God in that revelatory moment. In a way I could not articulate at the time, in a way I could only intuit, I knew I was “right” with God, and that counted more than anything.
How comfortable are you talking about your faith? What makes talking about faith difficult? What helps to make talking about faith easier?
What stories do you have to tell about how God has worked in your life?