Not misunderstood on a milkcrate
Mark 1:37-45

If I were to find myself a milk crate, and find a spot in Fed Square or Bourke St Mall and stand on it…a few might bother to look and wonder.

If I were to do the same thing, dressed in my liturgical attire, or even just wearing my clerical collar (especially in the middle of a week like our community has had, or in the midst of a global crisis our world community is facing)…I would be recognized as a ‘symbol’.  A few more might bother to look and wonder.  They might even think something associated with the symbolism.  They might make a judgment about me.  They might be angry—at me; at God.  They might be hopeful.  They might be moved to say something—a prayer, a jibe, a question, a taunt, a request. 

They might not be sure just what it meant that I was standing there; but they would make a connection—right or wrong—with what I stood for.

This year the series of Gospel readings set out for worship leads us through the story of Jesus’ ministry as told by Mark.  Mark’s style of writing lacks some of the sophistication modern teachers might hope to see in their students.  But Mark likes to tell a story that moves, that is full of action, that shows us amazing things.  His style quickly draws us into the dynamic of the drama:  that God, in Jesus, stands face to face with a world where one person after another is tormented by struggling, and suffering; with lives tied up with the consequences of sin; lives crying out with the pain of illness or grief; lives trapped in various forms of oppression; lives where hunger and poverty and hopelessness are very real.  And Jesus is in the mix.

In the Gospel reading last week Mark crams dozens of personal life-stories into a summary statement like “he cured many who were sick with various diseases”.  Doesn’t do justice to the impact on the lives of those he healed.  But Mark is moving Jesus rapidly through the community, and building not just a narrative but a personal presence, a very powerful symbol, of God in the community.  Jesus goes out, early in the morning, before sunrise, to find a quiet place, and the disciples say to him, “Everyone is searching for you.”

Everyone is searching for Jesus.  Consider that idea for a minute.  Everyone is searching for Jesus.  Why?  Because he can heal them.  He has answers.  He has power.  And he seems to be giving it out.  Because he cares. 

And yet, in today’s Gospel, Jesus heals someone suffering from leprosy—“I do choose to heal you!”—but sends him away telling him to be quiet about it, and to go show the priests.

We have to remind ourselves of the context of the healing of this person suffering with leprosy.  This story is one of the very many in the Gospels which I choose to recognize not simply as ‘healing miracles’ but as ‘resurrection stories’, ‘death to new life’.  In fact it is quite important, when you finally get to the end of Mark’s very long tale of healings—“and then Jesus healed this man; and then Jesus healed that woman; and then Jesus healed everyone who came to him….”—when you get to the end of all those ‘little’ miracles you are led to the cross and the empty grave, to the dramatic and emphatic declaration of Jesus’ authority over sin and death—“You’ve thrown it all at me, Satan, and I’m still here.  I still live.  And I still love!”

For this person, who carries the “leper” label, whose disease distinguishes him as no longer part of the community of the living—cannot live with family or friends, cannot participate in any of the activities of the community, must separate himself, must warn others not to approach him or associate with him, cannot even seek the mercy of God through the Temple rituals, cannot even approach the holiness of the Temple in his ‘unclean’ state, cannot even enter the city of Jerusalem—for this person Jesus’ healing is much, much more than getting rid of the physical malady; it is restoration and revival of life; it is resurrection.

Jesus instructs him to go show himself to the priests, who authenticate his restored health, and then remove the social barriers which separate him from family and community and work and worship—from life.

While people clamber to see a “spectacle”, Jesus, instead, is slowly and deliberately constructing and creating a world where the consequence of sin is not the defining statement.  When Jesus stands in the midst of the crowds he is building a community, permeating it with the order of the grace of God which has been from ‘the beginning’, but which we, in our experience of life, in the context of our own sin and the sin of others in our human community and sin in the fallen orders of the fallen creation has been obscured—our experience of the goodness of God’s grace is tainted, at best, often hidden, or even, at worst, forgotten or unknown.

The disciples said to Jesus, “Everyone is searching for you.”  What that “everyone” don’t fully appreciate is how Jesus is there, in their country, in their community, in their context and circumstance, because he has come searching for them; he has long been conscious of their needs.  He is not there in crisis mode, ready to apply a quick fix to today’s problem, and then move on and get on with life.  He is born among us; grows as we do; listens; learns; suffers the mistakes of others; is celebrated and scorned.  He is both patient and urgent, consistent and creative, in applying the healing power of God’s will to the lives of his brothers and sisters in community.

We watch him and see the leper healed, the life restored, the family reconciled, the community rebuilt. 

Do you ever think through what it means when you, in giving someone the grace that lifts a burden of guilt, that gives dignity to the shamed, that includes and affirms the one who has constantly been uncertain about belonging—do you ever think through what that word of grace also effects in that person’s home, with friends, in the workplace?  When you demonstrate faithfulness and commitment with someone, even through episodes of hurt and disappointment, have you considered the en-courage-ment which enables the same in another home, another office, another classroom?  Do you understand how your generosity, your sense of compassion, your awareness and sensitivity of the needs of others, that moves you to act for others, is also the foundation for service for those who have known you, experienced your ministry, and learned from you?

That is why we don’t stand on a milk crate in an empty space as a symbol to be noticed (maybe), understood (possibly) (but possibly mis-understood), or simply passed by and ignored.

We proclaim Christ Jesus “in the mix”.  We speak “the Word become flesh”—flesh in the touch of the sick and the outcast in our midst each day; flesh in the feeding of the hungry; flesh in the weeping with those who weep, in the building with those who rebuild; flesh in family homes; flesh in schools that teach and live the grace of God; flesh in church, or shop, or over the back fence.  We don’t present a spectacle, a trick, a this month’s “highlight”, today’s “headline”, or the “odd spot” at the bottom of the page.  We speak clearly God’s grace in the everyday, every place, every person.

There are many who don’t even realize what they are searching for, who do not have the vocabulary  to say “if you choose, give me grace”—and yet, when we are faithful to our calling, they walk away knowing that grace, taking it with them into their daily living.  And they may have a symbol—cross, window, fancy-dress-pastor; more likely it will simply be you—moved with pity, reaching out, touching, choosing to speak and act and live the healing, gracious Word of Christ Jesus.  God knows the world (actually we know pretty well, too, have been reminded again in these days) needs to know the presence of the Saviour’s compassion and love, of his grace.

The one who had been healed went out and proclaimed the healing grace of Jesus freely, and spread the word….  And people came to Jesus from every quarter.

Empower and encourage us, Lord Jesus, to live that moment for our community, in our lives, each day.  Amen.