Deep Listening

"I will do it. Be made clean" (Mark 1:42).

The story of Jesus healing the leper, like so many Gospel stories, is so familiar to us that we read it quickly but without really pondering it's simple power. One way to appreciate how much the evangelists put into the text is to read it slowly with attention to every word.

If we consider just the verbs, the leper does several actions: He came to Jesus, knelt down, begged him, then said, "if you wish. you can make me clean." The leper initiates the encounter by coming to Jesus, seeking him out even though, as a leper, he would have to break the taboo imposed on lepers to stay away. He believes that something would happen, so his faith is the basis for this miracle. He kneels before Jesus, an act of submission, again a sign of trust. He begs, an emotional sign of his desperation. Finally he carefully words his request:"If you wish," he says, "you can make me clean."  Jesus has the power, but will he use it? Many people said lepers were being punished by God for some sin. The leper trusted that Jesus did not share that view of God. 

Jesus' response also comes with four verbs. First, he is moved with pity, The Greek word implies a gut-wrenching compassion. Jesus feels the leper's pain and isolation, and it is from this well-spring of pity that his action flows. Jesus stretches out his hand. He reaches across the gulf  people put between themselves and the suffering of others, because they fear contamination, or fear getting too involved, too emotionally engaged in the pain of another. Jesus touches the leper, becoming ritually unclean, an outsider like the leper. He could have healed with a word, but he touches instead. Finally, Jesus speaks directly to the leper's prayer. Yes, he does wish to make him clean. Yes, he will do it. "Be made clean."  

By slowing down Mark's account of the healing, we see and feel the rich, nuanced, almost choreographed approach from both sides, ending in an embrace of hurt and compassion, brokenness and wholeness. Jesus reveals what God is really like, face to face, heart, hand and voice.

Our encounters with God can and should be he same. Prayer begins the dance between our needs and God's love. If we enter the dance and go with the flow, we come to know God in a new and intimate way, exactly what Jesus wishes for us.