"Compassion and Anger"
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 therewith a formerly diseased man being healedthis
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 Christs
You may recall from two weeks ago that I said Marks 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
the violent emotion in Christs 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 cant think
straightthose words that we dare not use in church? Well, thats 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,
youre 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 Marks 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
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 nights 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 outthis
man was living dead. The leper was physically designatedtorn clothes and disheveled
hairstyle. The leper was physically ostracizedplaced outside the community. The
curse of leprosy was the loss of ones 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 mans 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, JesusJesus Christ the Son of Godresponded
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 cant 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. Christs 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
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
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
Gods image. Yet, like the healing power of Christs touch. The simplicity of
human touch, the act of physically and emotionally reaching out in solidarity with anothers
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 prizethe
Kingdom of God!
Bryan P. Stone's quote from Bryand P Stone "Compassionate Ministry:
Theological Foundations" Orbis Maryknoll New York