Signpost for Sunday 16 February 2015: 2 Kings 5:1-14; Ps 30; 1 Cor 9:24-27; Mark 1:40-45
A certain writer, Papias of Hierapolis, who lived in the middle of the second century, wrote that Mark recorded the teaching of Peter, who taught according to the needs of his hearers. Based on this it helps me to think of Mark’s gospel as a set of notes, recorded by Mark, based on the teaching of Peter. A set of recorded lecture notes, if you will, which do not include any discussions that might follow. On this view, sections of the gospel might be devoted to a particular subject, making a point by using stories, stories which were told in a memorable way, so that the people who listened to them would remember and work out the implications of them.
So here we have a story of an encounter between Jesus and a leper, a person who was cut off from his family, from worship and from his community. When the leper approached, showing considerable courage and faith, using the words If you choose you can make me clean Jesus touched him, and said I do choose. Be made clean. What exactly was Jesus doing here.?
Firstly, he was doing something that was a kind thing to do: because he could he was curing someone of a disease. Secondly, by telling the man to obey the law, and to offer the correct sacrifices, he could regain his access to the worshipping community. This man was no longer kept out of the synagogue or the temple. He was restored to his position in the people of the God of Israel. Thirdly, he was restoring someone to his family: he would be no longer shut out, and would be able to help in providing for them.
But this was not the only thing that Jesus was doing, he creating an acted parable. He was trying to enable his disciples to change the way that they thought about God and the kingdom of God. He was offering an outsider the possibility of incorporation into the kingdom of God. By doing this he was demonstrating the way the kingdom of God would operate, and he was doing it on his own authority, making himself the centre of it.
He also began to change the way they thought and acted by taking an extravagant risk. When Jesus touched this outcast man he was stepping outside the boundary of the normally acceptable and risking becoming an outcast himself. Actions like these culminated in the utterly extravagant risk of death by crucifixion, followed by the vindication of the resurrection. This acted parable prompts the question as to what extravagant risks we take for the kingdom of God.