A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.
Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere. Mark 1:40-45
This story doesn’t begin with “fitting in”, for the leper doesn’t ‘fit in’ by definition. What the Bible calls “leprosy” isn’t always Hansen’s Disease, but visible skin diseases clearly made people nervous at a time when little was understood about them and fear of contagion was high. Lepers had to remain outside towns where necessities such as food were left out.
This is surely the epitome of marginalisation, and perhaps the story gives us just a glimpse of what life might feel like for immigrants, or for people whose sexuality has to be kept secret in their culture of origin today.
The leper knows Jesus is able to heal him, but he is uncertain whether he will get a sympathetic hearing. Clearly he is used to people shunning him for he says “if you want to...”. Jesus’ response is twofold – he is deeply moved by the man’s isolation and illness, and then comes an active response that leads to the man’s chance to be re-welcomed within society.
The conclusion is that instead of being excluded from normal family life, work, and synagogue, this man is now whole in body and in relationships of many different kinds.
For us, there would seem to be three types of response:
- Certainly prayer – for all who experience exclusion for whatever reason, letting our hearts respond to the plight of marginalisation;
- Is a small financial gift to an appropriate agency possible? (Leprosy Mission from this passage, but other agencies have similar roles in different situations);
- Reflecting on the experience of exclusion affecting people around us and, perhaps, doing something in the coming few weeks to bring down a barrier another person is experiencing.
Loving and Holy God, as we remember the unconditional acceptance offered by Jesus to children, women, the sick and those outside his own religion and culture, help us to see where we can make even a small difference in a lonely or isolated life.
Written by Revd Dr Rosalind Selby, Principal at Northern College, Manchester (a Resource Centre for Learning in the United Reformed Church)