A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, "If you choose, you can make me clean." Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, "I do choose. Be made clean!" Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter. - Mark 1:40-45
Miracles are the focus of this Sunday’s gospel. But miracles have gotten a pretty bad rap lately. Some pious soul is regularly seeing the image of Jesus or Mary in a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich or a baked potato. Statues are seen to weep or to bleed with no immediate explanation. All of course are reported with a wink and a smirk by the local news anchors.
There’s always been a ready market for miracles, even the bogus ones. So imagine the fuss when Jesus comes along dispensing the real thing. We are still in the first chapter of Mark. Jesus has already been proclaimed a miracle worker. He is being mobbed by the afflicted and the curious. And he’s conflicted by all the commotion.
In last Sunday’s gospel, we saw Jesus get out of town to avoid the miracle seekers and to get on with preaching the kingdom. But his reputation follows him and his compassion never leaves him. So when the leper throws himself in his path and begs for a cure, Jesus responds: be thou clean. He then admonishes the man to go to the priests, show them his cure and offer thanksgiving according to Mosaic Law.
These few lines tell us a lot about the direction of Christ’s early ministry. He has the power to heal. And when he sees suffering he uses that power. But beyond compassion, he is the Messiah foretold by the prophets. And one of the signs of his coming, are the miracles he is performing. Jesus is a devout Jew, obedient to the Law of Moses. He has not come to overthrow the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them. He has come to redeem the world…not run a walk-in miracle clinic.
Sometime after his cure, the leper surely has a date with his earthly mortality. Whether from cancer, heart disease or a slip and fall, his restoration to health is only temporary. The same is true for every one of us. From the oldest to the youngest, our days are numbered. And here’s where the real miracle comes in. In Christ we have eternal life, not a temporary extension of a mortal one. Jesus is the Lamb of God, not the Galilee emergency room. While still over the horizon, the real miracles await us – on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Cynics have cautioned us not to rely on miracles. But the miracle of redeeming grace is one you can take to the bank. Better yet, it is a miracle you can take to eternal life when The Miracle Worker calls you home.