Archives For Leprosy

leperThis fall I’ve been leading a bible study through the Gospel of Mark, a small chunk at a time.

A few weeks ago we looked at 1.40-45:

‘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.” 

The big Gospel takeaway:

Mark makes a point of emphasizing- remember every last detail in Mark is important and intentional- Jesus touched the leper first before he healed him.

Where Jesus should’ve become contagious from leprosy, the leper becomes contagious with the love of Jesus.

The exchange here between the leper and Jesus symbolically illustrates how the order of power has been overturned: Jesus is infecting the status quo.

The symbolic, Kingdom-enacting power of this touch is easy to miss and hard to overestimate. When Jesus says the Kingdom is here among you, it’s in moments like this one.

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A former teacher of mine who always will be one of my theological Jedis, Dr Robert Dykstra, shares his own personal parallel to this Gospel in his book, Losers, Loners and Rebels: The Spiritual Struggles of Boys. m2Md4IhrnTDgSkyCO-I0KSA

No doubt, I resonate with it because like Dr Dykstra I too suffered this particular leprosy and shame, but, unlike him, I’ve never had the courage to share about it.

Here it is:

“By mid-adolescence, I had developed an unusually severe, almost textbook case of acne, though one mostly confined to areas on my back and chest and therefore mercifully hidden under my shirt from the gaze of others. I say ‘textbook case’ because of a conversation I had with a physician friend years later, at age 27, while working as a chaplain in a hospital.

As we talked one day, I happened to mention to my friend that if I ever were to develop a serious infection, I was sure there would be no antibiotics left to treat me because of a tolerance I had developed after so many years of taking them for acne as a youth.

She asked me which drugs I had taken, and as I went through the list and got to the last and, at the time, most potent, one called Dapsone, she casually remarked ‘Oh, the leprosy drug.’

I went to the Physicians’ Desk Reference, the drug bible, and looked up Dapsone, and there it was- the primary drug used to treat Hanson’s Disease, a contemporary form of leprosy. Acne was not even listed there among its possible indications, leading me to speculate about the desperation of my dermatologist.

Though I had suspected it since early childhood, at 27 a doctor confirmed I was indeed a leper.

Back when I was 16, I cringed one day when my minister casually touched my shoulder, because it hurt. He asked why I flinched. I didn’t respond.

He had a long memory however and days later asked if he could see my back. I told him no. He wanted to know why, but again I would not say. We played this game for a while, so great was my shame, until for some reason- perhaps sheer exhaustion but more likely an inner desire to be known- I relented.

We were together in church, in the sanctuary, of all places, when I lifted up my shirt for him. He told me he was sorry I had suffered this alone, that he was proud of me for letting me see, and that he thought it would help for me to see a doctor, which to that point I had not done.

Thus would begin my years of antibiotics and some tangible relief from an embodied source of shame.

Today, of course, a minister’s asking an adolescent to lift his shirt in church immediately raises eyebrows…

But this, I think,  would be the wrong lesson to draw. There is no question that healing for my own leprosy, not only in its most overt form as acne but in its more invidious expression as shame, began long before I took a single capsule of Tetracycline, the first of the drugs, and years before I took the final Dapsone, the last of them.

Rather, the great healing came in lifting my shirt before a sufficiently attentive, caring other, and especially in doing so in the safety of ‘my Father’s house.’

I found with graphic clarity in that particular space and action a God who was as concerned with my body as with my soul. I found acceptance, a sanctuary, for embodied shame.”

 

 

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‘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.