The healing stories of Jesus are among my favorite stories of the gospels. There is something deeply honest about persons in considerable pain—a woman bent low, a man born blind, a father pleading on behalf of his ailing daughter—coming to Jesus in desperation and placing all their hopes upon Jesus’ willingness to make them well. Jesus never disappoints, either. He always meets their desperation with compassion, their suffering with relief, their isolation with restoration. In this week’s gospel lesson, the same is true for the leper who comes to Jesus kneeling at his feet begging, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Rather than be repulsed by the man’s potentially contagious condition, Jesus moves toward the leper reaching out to him and touching him saying, “I do choose. Be made clean!”
No wonder the leper can hardly contain his gratitude and praise. While healing stories are powerful personal encounters between individuals and Jesus, they are never meant to be simply private “Jesus moments.” The healing of individuals is always about more than the healing of individuals. Healings are about the kingdom of God.
Earlier in the first chapter of Mark’s gospel, Jesus makes clear his mission. He announces, “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” Jesus’ ministry is about manifesting the kingdom of God in our midst. Everything that follows is evidence of this message. The exorcisms confirm the kingdom of God come near. The healings reveal the kingdom of God come near. The miracles make true the kingdom of God come near. Sickness, disease, social isolation have no place God’s realm, and the restoration of the broken to wholeness is a part of God’s will on earth as it is in heaven. Jurgen Moltmann writes, “together with the proclamation of the gospel, the healing of the sick is Jesus’ most important testimony to the dawning of the kingdom of God… healings are signs of the new creation and the rebirth of life… The healings should be understood as foretokens of the resurrection and of eternal life. Just as eternal life quickens those who believe, so the eternal salvation heals those who trust it.” When Jesus heals the individual, creation is being restored.
Jesus suggests secrecy to the leper because of the incredible potential for this message to be distorted. Fred Craddock liked to say that Jesus’ healings created “audiences, no congregations.” Many will flock to Jesus for healing, but all will abandon him when he is handed over to suffer and die. Healings are not the only place that the kingdom is revealed. When Jesus hangs on the cross, creation is being restored. Only very few people want to hear that part of the message. Again, Craddock says, “all the way to the cross, Jesus will be trying to get those who think ‘where the messiah is, there is no misery’ to accept a new perspective—‘where there is misery, there is the messiah.” Individual healings are amazing, but they always serve more than the individual. They serve to help us choose to follow the messiah to places of human misery, even the most miserable place of all, the cross. I do choose…