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03-03-2013 message by Pastor Rich Doebler, first in the series: CRAZY TALK

Mark 1:40-42
40 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” 41 Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.

“I am willing,” Jesus said.

Jesus has often been misunderstood and misinterpreted. Not only now, in the 21st century, but even in the first century, when he taught and ministered, people didn’t always “get it.” Sometimes they said, “This is a hard teaching; who can accept it?” (John 6:60).

So on a number of occasions Jesus said things that seemed extreme — over the top, even strange or weird. To the average person, his words often didn’t make sense.

Think about it: Jesus did and said things that caused even his family to say, “He is out of his mind” (Mark 3:21).

As a result, his family tried to “take charge of him” — today we would say they were trying to “have him committed.” Others went further and said, “He is possessed…he has an evil spirit” (Mark 3:22,30).

Even today, after centuries of scholarly analysis, intepretation and re-interpretation, Jesus’ words, at times, seem crazy to us.

But perhaps it’s in grasping the extremes that we can find balance and hope. Perhaps it’s only when we get in touch with the amazing, outrageous Jesus that we can find the solution for our own crazy lives.

When life gets crazy… it’s good to know Jesus can deal with it!

“I am willing,” Jesus said.

That was crazy! Jesus was willing to do what no one else was willing to do — certainly no one who hoped to be spiritually clean and acceptable to God.

They called Jesus a teacher, but no Jewish rabbi, no legitimate teacher of the law, no religious scribe would do what Jesus did for this man. When they saw this man coming, they would cross over to the other side of the street. They would try to avoid him. They would get as far away from him as possible.

It was only reasonable that they would be repulsed by the disease of leprosy. Even today, the various kinds of skin disease in Third World or developing nations can be gruesome: oozing sores, disfigured features, grotesque deformities. Leprosy would destroy the nerves, leaving the body vulnerable to infections. Skin would rot away. Fingers and toes — and more — would putrify, and the fall off.

But beyond that, they were restricted by Jewish religious law, by custom, and by their traditions from being near the man with leprosy. Why? Because leprosy was a symbol of sin and its consequences. In their understanding, it was a sign of God’s judgment and disfavor.

The religious leaders wanted to maintain their ritual purity. They knew the law. They knew that even an accidental brush with something “unclean” would contaminate them. They knew they would have to go through a detailed process of ritual cleansing.

So the man’s leprosy pushed him to the edges of society. He was ostracized. He was judged. Condemned. He was avoided — even by his own family.

Undoubtedly his family loved him, but they couldn’t bring themselves to associate with his horrible disease. So Jesus was willing to do what even his own family could not bring themselves to do. His own mother stayed away from him. If he was married, his wife and children avoided him as well.

Life often seems unfair.

Such extreme treatment seems unfair to us. We think, He couldn’t help it. His disease was a totally random thing. It just happened. A virus can hit anyone without regard to their moral condition. Bad people can get sick, but so can good people. Bad things sometimes happen to good people.

What this man had to go through seems grossly unfair to us. Yet, we still see similar injustices today.

Even now, we have modern day “lepers” who, though not ravaged by a horrible, disfiguring skin disease, are nonetheless ostracized, judged, and condemned. There are people who are pushed to the edges of respectable society.

Perhaps some are judged because of their own actions. A lot of people look down on criminals, for example — ex-cons and felons. Others will criticize unwed, pregnant teens. Others disrespect smokers. Others disrespect the wealthy who live in luxury. It doesn’t matter, prejudice goes in all directions —

Still others look down on those who are trapped by circumstances — drug addicts, alcoholics, compulsive gamlers, those caught in the grinding cycle of poverty, those stuck on welfare and government assistance.

There are modern day “lepers” who know what it is to be ostracized and condemned.

Many are pushed out of the mainstream because they’re the wrong color, because they come from the wrong side of the tracks, because they struggle with mental health issues, because they live with disabilities, because they’re the wrong age or the wrong gender.

Jesus touches what isn’t fair.

This story tells us two simple, but very profound things. Two crazy things:

(1) If you have been pushed away and left out — if you feel unacceptable to others, know this:

you are acceptable to Jesus. He says, “I am willing” and he reaches out to touch us in our shame and our pain.

(2) If you ignore hurting people — if you avoid or push away those who struggle or those who are different,

then you’re not following Jesus.

You might be protecting your own reputation. You might be worried about maintaining your image. But you are not walking in the footsteps of the One who said, “I am willing” and reached out to touch the man with leprosy.

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. Jesus was willing to sacrifice his own reputation. He was willing to let go of his ritual purity. He was willing to associate with the unclean leper. Jesus was willing to get dirty.

He didn’t just speak at the leper from a distance. He didn’t just stand on the other side of the road and, in a loud voice, command the leprosy to leave. He didn’t just wave his hand over the man’s diseased skin.

No, he was willing to reach out and touch the man no one else would touch. Jesus was willing to touch the untouchable. Jesus was willing to get dirty.

How could Jesus do this? Why was Jesus willing? Why would he do something so outrageous? Something so crazy?

1      Because he loved the broken, the harrassed, the downtrodden, Jesus was able to take risks. Because of love, he could conquer all the natural objections, worries, and fears people typically struggle with.
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…” (1 John 4:18)

2      Because he was confident in who he was. He was not threatened by the judgments or opinions of others.
“…my decisions are right, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me.” (John 8:16) If you know who you are in God — if you have assurance that he has given you authority — you can dare to touch the untouchable. You can be willing — willing even to get dirty, because you know you’re helping to clean a dirty world.

3      Because he cared.
Mark says he was “filled with compassion” (1:41).
Mercy Ships treatments in Africa “at the intersection of courage and compassion.” — Scott Pelley (60 Minutes Feb 17, 2013).
If you can see others as God sees them, if you see with God’s eyes and feel with God’s heart, then you will have compassion. Compassion is a compelling, motivating force. With compassion, you can touch the one others avoid.

4      Because he knew his mission — Jesus had a calling and a purpose. He was sent by his Father.
He was willing to make himself nothing, to humble himself, and take on the nature of a servant (Phil 2:7-8). If you know you are called for God’s purpose, then you can touch the leper. You can be willing to get dirty.
Jesus said,
“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21) If you truly know you’re called to fulfill God’s purpose, you can do anything.

A few years ago, I read a remarkable article in National Geographic about the Dalits of India—the caste of “Untouchables,” those at the bottom rung of the social ladder, the rejects and outcasts of society. They live miserable lives, assigned with all the filthy, dirty, repugnant jobs that no one else wants to do. [June, 2003] I’ve shared one of the stories in that article before, but it bears repeating.

It was about Amrutbhai Sarasiya, a member of the “scavenger” caste—the lowest of the Untouchables. His job was to manually clean out latrines and clogged sewer pipes. He was, quite literally, a human roto-rooter. He would lower himself down into the sewer system beneath the streets, slosh around in the filth and the muck, take care of the problem, and then climb out.

National Geographic showed a picture of Amrutbhai coming out of the sewer. His job was done, no one would let him near the neighborhood wells for water to clean off. No one wanted anything to do with him. And who could blame them? He was covered with filth and human waste. Sewage was matted in his hair, caked on his skin, crusted under his fingernails. He looked and smelled awful—and so he was rejected and scorned by everyone.

Jesus became an “untouchable.” He lowered himself down into the sewer of sin. Though he was holy and blameless, he willingly touched the unclean—those whom others avoided: lepers, sinners, disreputable women, tax collectors. Jesus sloshed around in the filth and muck of sin. Amrutbhai was born an untouchable, but Jesus chose to lower himself. He chose to become sin—filthy and disgusting and repugnant to his Father.

In the end he cried out, “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)

He was willing to be forsaken so we could be accepted.

He was willing to touch the unclean so we could be made clean.

Jesus loved us so much that he was willing to come down to our mess. Jesus came down to touch us as we are. He was willing to touch us in our dirt and our shame. He descended into the cesspool of this world.

Jesus was willing to set aside his own rights so he could deal with our wrongs.

Jesus was willing to touch us with his grace so we could be freed of our disgrace.

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21)

Jesus was willing to be contaminated by the unclean touch of a leper; he becomes dirty so the leper can be clean.

“I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” (Mark 1:41b) And he still says the same today!

“I am willing.”