‘A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “You could declare me clean, if you dare.” Moved with anger, 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. Snorting with indignation, Jesus dispatched him, 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.”
On Facebook this week I shared an article I found on the Daily Beast with the amusing title, ‘I’m a Porn Star and I Believe in God.’
I only glanced through the article but I read enough to catch a whiff of the author’s condescension, subtly mocking the (often vague and contradictory) religious beliefs of porn stars and their (often equally vague and contradictory) justifications for their work in light of their faith.
What came across in the article is exactly what the headline was meant to pique: Surprise.
Surprise that ‘those people’ would believe in God.
I don’t know why it would surprise.
Many porn stars apparently believe in a personal God who bears a slight familial resemblance to the God of the Bible but not enough to be overbearing.
Just like many plenty of church do.
I confess I shared the story on Facebook with a little added snark about the possibilities for creating a niche, micro-targeted church just for porn star Christians.
Having shared it on Facebook, I immediately wondered what exactly would be wrong with a community of porn stars following Jesus.
Why is it, for example, that a Daily Beast article with the title ‘I Coordinate Drone Attacks and I Believe in God’ or ‘I’m a Corporate Lawyer and I Believe in God’ or, to be above board, ‘I’m a Pastor in an Affluent Denomination and I Believe in God’ wouldn’t register the same tone of surprise, if any, as a ‘I’m a Porn Star and I Believe in God?’
Because any honest read of the Gospels would lead you to bet that Jesus would have a thing or two to say about those other vocations too.
And there’s no question in mind as to who Jesus would be hanging out with if he had to choose.
This is hardly a defense of pornography, quite the opposite. It is, however, an honest pondering about why the word ‘purity’ carries only connotations of sex.
Why do sexual sins triumph over other ones? And why do we assume those sins disqualify from discipleship while others do not?
What prompted me to reconsider the Daily Beast story this week was my reading of Mark’s Gospel, the story of the leper in 1.40-45.
The purity regulations about leprosy are found in Leviticus 13.2-14.57 and revolved around 2 basic considerations: Leprosy is a communicable disease and a priest must preside over any ritual cleansing
The verb (katharizein) translated ‘to cleanse’ actually means ‘to declare clean.’ Jesus, as he does with ritually proscribed food, announces the man clean.
‘To declare clean’ shows how the point isn’t Jesus’ miracle-working per se but his claiming authority that belongs to the guild of priests, who would consign the leper to the margins where ‘sinners’ belong.
Jesus defies Torah by usurping the priestly prerogative.
Mark makes a point of emphasizing- remember every last detail in Mark is important and intentional- that Jesus touched the leper first before he healed him.
Where Jesus should’ve become contagious from leprosy, the leper becomes contagious with Jesus.
The exchange here between the leper and Jesus symbolically illustrates how the order of power has been overturned: Jesus is attacking and infecting the status quo.
Many translations give the impression in Vs. 43-45 that Jesus instructed the man to follow the priestly ritual: “go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
But if that’s the case then the above is just, only, a miracle story. To read it that way, misses the tone of the story: the leper himself recognizes that approaching Jesus, a nonpriest, for healing violates the social order: “…if you dare…”
And why would Jesus then be angry and indignant?
The emotions attributed to Jesus only make sense if the leper has already gone to the priests for healing, and the priests for some reason rejected his petition.
Having been healed, the leper’s task is not to publicize a miracle but to help confront an unjust system: Note how in V44 the object changes from ‘priest’ to ‘them’
It’s about more than what 1 priest did or failed to do. It’s about the whole system.
Jesus’ anger is against the whole purity system that make people victims twice over, first by stigmatizing them and then by barring their religious participation if demands, which are not exerted on others, are not met.
I can’t help but wonder if Jesus’ reaction to a condescending story like ‘I’m a Porn Star…’ wouldn’t be surprise but anger.
And I also wonder if after Jesus declared those porn stars ‘clean’ we religious folk wouldn’t be a little PO’d with Jesus.
Angry enough to kill him.