Prepare Our Hearts – August 21

A Devotional from Central Presbyterian Church.Find another day here.

Friday, August 21, 2020
Mark 1:39-
45
And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” 42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 44 and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” 45 But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.

Forgive me if I have mentioned this before, but if I have learned anything about myself over the last six months, it is my very real need for community. By far the hardest aspect of life in the pandemic, at least for me, has been attempting to stay connected with people outside of my house, and even though our family has been blessed to spend time visiting with extended family and not be exclusively stuck at home, there are days when the cabin fever is just too much. Additionally, the usual excitement surrounding the first days of school earlier this week were replaced with sadness and tears over not being able to see and touch all of our favorite friends and teachers. Of course the folks in my house are far from the only ones who have suffered from the extended time of isolation. Earlier this week the CDC reported that “symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder increased considerably in the United States during April-June 2020.”

Through the span of the last six months, many of us have experienced what has long been the only reality for those, particularly globally, who suffer with chronic illnesses and/or are trapped in substandard institutional care facilities. On Jesus’ travels through the region of Galilee preaching in the synagogues and casting out demons and healing, He encountered such a cursed individual, a man afflicted with leprosy. Leprosy could refer to any number of several highly contagious and incurable skin diseases which caused the skin to break out in painful sores, fall off in large chunks, and even destroy clothing. In addition to the lepers’ grotesque appearance and physical discomfort, they also experienced the agony of forced social isolation. According to Leviticus 14, lepers were not just physically sick but pronounced spiritually unclean by the priests and were forbidden to live among healthy people, relegated to leper colonies outside the gates of the city. Covering their bodies with torn clothes and long hair they loudly announced themselves “unclean, unclean” to everyone who came near. We see a small picture of this bleak existence in Luke 17 when, on the outskirts of a village between Samaria and Galilee, an entire colony of ten lepers cried out for Jesus’ attention while carefully keeping their distance. But here in Galilee, in direct violation of the Levitical law, this desperate man, who Luke’s gospel tells us was not just a leper but “full of leprosy,” ran straight up to Jesus and fell on his knees within an arm’s reach.

The leper’s assurance in the power of Jesus was overwhelmingly evident as he remarkably didn’t even ask for healing, and instead of loudly proclaiming his own uncleanliness, he declared for all to hear that Jesus was able to cleanse him if it be His will. Seeing the man’s faith and moved with compassion, Jesus then did the unthinkable; He reached out and touched the untouchable. Instantly the man was not just healed of his disease but made completely clean. His entire body, which had been marred by scars and open wounds too hideous to look at, was fully healed.

In an attempt to keep the crowds at bay, the only discharge instructions Jesus provided were that the man not tell a soul what had happened but instead go to Jerusalem and show himself to the temple priests and provide the offering for healing which Moses had commanded in Leviticus 14. But true to his pattern of bending the rules, the man instead proceeded to tell everyone he could find about the amazing thing Jesus had done for him. Because of His rapidly spreading fame Jesus was no longer able to enter the cities and preach in the synagogues. But although Jesus was relegated to the uninhabited, desolate places, the masses continued to come in droves.

As I read the encounter of the leper healed by Jesus, I am struck by how much I can relate. Before I knew Jesus I allowed my sin to isolate me, and even now I still attempt to use anything I can hide behind to cover my uncleanliness and keep me from being exposed to others. Like the leper, no matter how hard I try, I am unable to do anything to heal myself and am entirely reliant upon the compassion and mercy of Jesus to make me well. Also like the leper, I am often not very good at following the instructions of Jesus, but instead of telling everyone I know about what Jesus has done for me, my tendency is to quietly and slowly slink back to my old patterns and ways of life.

The good news is that just like with the leper, Jesus knows what we need before we even ask. He is willing and able to heal us from all of our iniquities and uncleanliness and He longs to call us out of our isolation and restore us to a beautiful and intimate relationship with Himself and the community of faith. All that is asked of us is to accept and believe that Jesus is who He says He is and what He has done for us is sufficient for all that we could ever need. Through His grace, to paraphrase Martin Luther, even mere lepers like us can show other lepers where to find the cleansing they so desperately long for.

Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, we are especially reminded today of our desperate need for You. The reality is that each of us are little more than unclean outcasts afflicted by sin and barred from true community. But we thank You that You are not repulsed by our appearance but draw near to us in our affliction and lavish us with affection. You are willing to make us clean, if only we believe. We ask that You would forgive us our sins and increase of faith, that we would live in Your power today. We ask this in Your Healing name, Amen.