The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

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“Unclean”

Mark 1:40-45

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

“Unclean!  Unclean!”  That is what the leper should have been yelling as He came near to Jesus; not, “If you wish, you are able to make me clean” (Mark 1:40).  What is he even doing there, in the midst of the crowd?  He is not supposed to be near anyone.  Surely, he knows the Law in Leviticus: “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’  He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease.  He is unclean.  He shall live alone.  His dwelling shall be outside the camp” (Leviticus 13:45-46, ESV).  But he comes anyway, asking Jesus to heal him.  Does the leper ask in faith or in doubt?  Is the emphasis on “you can make me clean,” or is it on the “if you wish”?  We do not know for sure.  What we do know is that Jesus does wish to make him clean.  Jesus is compassionate even to those who will cause Him difficulty in His mission and those who would, ultimately, cause Him suffering.  So Jesus touches the leper, which would make Jesus unclean if He was a mere man.  But instead of making Jesus unclean, His touch reverses the uncleanness and makes the leper clean.  He wishes to make us clean, too, even though our sin caused Him to suffer and even as we continue to cause Him difficulty in His mission.  He wishes to cleanse us not only from the uncleanness in our bodies, but also from the uncleanness in our souls.

But if He wished to cleanse people, why would Jesus silence those who talk about Him?  We have trouble with this Jesus.  We think that as long as people are talking about Jesus, it’s all to the good.  But clearly, Jesus does not think so.  Whatever the leper told people, it was not the whole truth about Jesus; and if it is not the whole truth, it is a lie from the deepest pit of hell.  There is a holy anger in Jesus’ command that the man say nothing to no one about what happened.  All that the former leper knows is the lack of leprosy in his body.  He goes out and preaches, it is true; but what is he preaching?  Is he preaching Jesus, the healer of body and soul, or is he preaching his own healing?  Is he preaching the sign or the Gospel to which the sign points?  He should have given a testimony to the priests about the Man who has the authority to heal because He is God in the flesh.  Instead, he merely gives a testimony of the fact that his leprosy is gone.  Between the two is all the difference in the world.  What good is it to gain all the health in the world, but lose your soul?  Jesus tells the leper to be silent because He has not yet been crucified and resurrected.  Jesus tells the leper to be silent about a mere healing, just as He tells the demons to stop talking about mere facts.  Jesus silences the demons and He tries to silence the leper, even though they are saying true things about Him.  It is true that Jesus heals; it is true that Jesus is the Holy One of God and that He has come to destroy the reign of the devil.  But those things are not the whole truth.  They are only true if Jesus does the will of the Father and the will of the Father is centered around a cross.  We preach and confess the Christ who was crucified, not the Christ who heals.  Or, rather, we preach and confess the Christ who heals only because He is the Christ who was crucified.  He frees our flesh from all corruption only because He is alive in flesh that is incorruptible.  Jesus has authority over disease and demons because He has the authority to forgive sins.  He forgives sins because He was killed on a cross for those sins.  He was raised from the dead in victory over sin and death, over disease and demons.  And He was raised because He is the Son of God.

The leper spoke of a Jesus whom he did not know, because he did not know the crucified and risen Jesus.  We speak of a Jesus whom we know, “who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25, ESV).  Through this Jesus, and this Jesus only, we have peace with God and access to the grace in which we now stand (Romans 5:1-2).  We stand in this grace, and we pray for healing, for ourselves and for those around us.  We know that Jesus is willing; He proved it in His compassion for the sick and the demon-oppressed.  We know that Jesus is willing; He proved it when He went to death on the cross; by the cross, He killed death and all of death’s servants: leprosy, fever, demons, and all sorts of uncleanness in our flesh.  Unclean, unclean, we say, as we come defiled by what we have seen and heard done, defiled in our bodies and minds and souls.  Unclean, unclean, as we come in selfishness and bitterness.  Unclean, unclean, as we come doubting the willingness of Jesus to heal; as we come with our Pharisaic requests for glorious signs unconnected to the cross.  But still, Jesus is willing and able to make clean.  Jesus touches the unclean and the uncleanness leaves.  We see at the cross what such compassion cost Him.  In fact, He was affected by the uncleanness.  By His touching, His living among, His speaking with sinners, Jesus was made unclean in the sight of His Father.  He did not just play the compassion game by touching those who were untouchable; He became the untouchable, the unclean, the unrighteous.  He touched you and took your uncleanness, your defilement, and your impurity; your abuse, your infidelity, your abortion, your depression, your secret shame; your sin and the sin of others against you-He took it all as His own.  His touch cleanses you, not because it is magic, but because He was dead and is alive again.  You can have that assurance, that touch: come and ask me for the absolution of your Lord and I, in the stead and by the command of my Lord and your Lord Jesus Christ, will place my hands on your head and Jesus will speak through me His baptismal word to you: I forgive you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Faith does not ask for proof, but you have it anyway: in your own resurrection.  You have it through faith by baptism in this world, and you will have it by sight in holiness, completely cleansed, in the world to come.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 4:7, ESV).

— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 2/11/09

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