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"Compassion and Anger"
by DWR

A leper came to Jesus begging him and kneeling. This leper said to Christ, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” “If you choose, you can make me clean.”

So Jesus, our NRSV text says, “Was moved with pity.” Other equally valid translations use the word “compassion” in the place of pity.

Next, Jesus, the holy Son of God, in the emotional stirrings of his compassion addresses the leper. “I do choose. Be made clean.” He then touches this untouchable leper and a miracle of healing takes place. The leper is cleansed.

If the story ended there—with a formerly diseased man being healed—this would be a fun, easy passage of scripture to deal with. “Ask, and it shall be given.” Yet, the story becomes more complicated after that. The complication lies in Christ’s subversive ministry.

You may recall from two weeks ago that I said Mark’s gospel is a subversive gospel. This Good News account of Jesus Christ, Son of God, is subversive because it cuts to the heart of social, political, religious, and power structures of the day. It is subversive because cuts right to the heart of what we have become … and challenges us to transform into what we were meant to be.

Verse 43 picks up our story with the first hint of an odd twist. Jesus “sternly” warned the man and “sent him away at once.” “Sternly sent him away” The English translation does not do the Greek justice. To communicate the anger … and the violent emotion in Christ’s words we may do better to read, “Jesus furiously warned the man and cast him out of his sight” This is not a picture of a loving, happy Jesus here. This is a mad Jesus. This is an indignant Jesus. This Jesus is fuming mad. (You know those words that you say when you are so mad that you just can’t think straight—those words that we dare not use in church? Well, that’s how we can describe how mad Jesus is!)

And if that picture of Jesus is not enough to make us uncomfortable, it gets worse. After the man is to show himself to the priest, he has to keep quiet about this wonderful thing that Jesus has just done for him. It is as if an angry Jesus says, “There, you’re healed. Now get out of my face, show yourself to the priest, and keep your big mouth shut!” NOW GO!”

Is this the voice of compassion? Is this the voice of love? Is this the voice the beloved Son of God?

In fact, this troubling image of Jesus is so powerful in this story that it led some early copyists and translators to change the word “compassion” (or “pity”) to “anger” in verse 41. After all, how can one reconcile this violent outburst with the “compassion” which preceded the healing?

The answer lies in the subversive nature of Mark’s gospel.

“Leprosy” was a big deal in first century Palestine. Yet the diagnosis was about as general as it could get. Basically any condition of the skin considered abnormal was leprosy by the terms of the age. Any rash, any patch of dry skin, any physical discoloration, …you name it, if it was on the skin, it was leprosy. For all we know, the only thing this man needed was a lathering up with Vaseline Intensive Care lotion and a good night’s sleep.

Yet the label of leprosy meant a whole lot more. Leviticus 13:45 & 46 gives us the instructions for dealing the conditions labeled as leprosy.

The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, “unclean, unclean.” He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.

In short, leprosy was a social death sentence. Cut off and completely cast out—this man was living dead. The leper was physically designated—torn clothes and disheveled hairstyle. The leper was physically ostracized—placed outside the community. The curse of leprosy was the loss of one’s humanity!

Moved by his great and divine compassion, Jesus shattered the prison walls that surrounded this man. Jesus spoke to him. Jesus entered into his world of isolation and social damnation and spoke to this man. “yes, I do choose!” Jesus then touched him. Jesus stood in the midst of this man’s life-less hell and restored his humanity with the simple power of human touch. Moved by his great and divine compassion, Jesus liberated this man from the prison of social rejection and graciously gifted him with that which should never have been taken in the first place, his humanity.

Yet something happens when we move from our safe, comfortable world and enter into the world of the suffering. Something happens when we cross the tracks and touch a life so different from our own. Something stirs within us when we enter into the social prisons of others in need. It happened even to Jesus. He got mad. What began as compassion was transformed through the suffering of this leper into anger. Stirred by this great flood of righteous indignation welling up from deep within, Jesus—Jesus Christ the Son of God—responded in rage.

Go away! Go away from me! Your pain … this awful prison that the sinful and idolatrous world has placed you in … is too much for me to take right now. Go away! Go away from me! This world … what this evil and inhuman world has done to you … it angers me, it pains me so! Go away from me now! Go, Show yourself to the priest, and then just keep quiet about it because this world is just too cruel for me to take right now. Go away! Go away from me now! The pain of being cast out by this world reminds me too much of what I must yet endure and I can’t take the pain right now! Go away!

This passage painfully reminds us that Jesus was unavoidably human. Jesus, led by his great compassion and love for humanity, walked into the private suffering and personal prisons of the suffering.

Emotionally moved, pained, and grieved by the tremendous pains of our suffering, Jesus explodes in rage at the inhuman world pronouncing death sentence after death sentence after death sentence on the underprivileged of the society!

Jesus was pained because it reminded him of the death sentence his compassion would eventually bring him.

Jesus is not only human, but he is also the most human example we have in our inhuman world. Christ’s call to compassionate ministry in an uncompassionate world is boldly echoed in this text.

Jesus not only restores the humanity of a leper, he calls us to restore the humanity of the world. Jesus calls us to return to human dignity. Jesus calls us to be human!

The Compassion of Christ sees the inhumanity of the world and breaks in with liberating grace, liberating love, and liberating tenderness! It is best summarized in the words of Bryan Stone:

“God wants us to be human. Yet, when we see that every two minutes a woman is raped and that every eighteen seconds, a woman is beaten by the man she lives with, we realize we are not very human.”

Is it no wonder that Jesus got mad? Our inhumanity is evidenced … In the prisons of human suffering in squalid living conditions. Organized murder through capitol punishment Exploitation of the human body through pornography, blatantly sexually oriented advertising, fashion, and the reduction of human sexuality to a mere commodity to be packaged, used, exchanged, and tossed aside. In the need to protect children by metal detectors in schools Financial gain at the cost of human dignity equality and quality of life And (like the lepers of so long ago) society still continues to stigmatize the suffering and outcast regardless of fault or blame. o The “untouchable” carrier of AIDS. o The wealfare mother o The alcoholic o The troublemaker o The gang-banger o The elderly o The lonely o The depressed o (how many more can you add to the list?)

The apostle Paul likened it to running a race. The ministry of Jesus Christ is a ministry of compassion and love that involves pain, suffering, and constant, focused effort.

To penetrate the ironclad walls of societal isolation and prisons racism, class-ism, and sexism to touch the suffering in their pain requires effort. It requires sacrifice. It brings about pain!

All this because the ministry of Jesus Christ demands that we subvert the powers and principalities that seek to dominate, castigate, and eliminate the humanity created in God’s image. Yet, like the healing power of Christ’s touch. The simplicity of human touch, the act of physically and emotionally reaching out in solidarity with another’s pain, is the beginning of a powerfully compassionate ministry of healing, of love and liberation. We can let the fear of pain keep us out of the race … or we can lean on the witness and power of Christ to run the race and claim the imperishable prize—the Kingdom of God!

Bryan P. Stone's quote from Bryand P Stone "Compassionate Ministry: Theological Foundations" Orbis Maryknoll New York