I was riffing on the lectionary text for this past Sunday, Jesus’ healing of a man with leprosy. I’d like to share a take on it that came to me out of the proverbial blue on Sunday morning as I was doing a final edit of my sermon. It occasioned an almost complete rewrite of the sermon in less than two hours. I don’t typically rehash what I’ve already written in a sermon, but this one grabbed me by the ahem…lapels and I want to get it out there.
We’ve heard lots of sermons on this text based on Dom Crossan’s research suggesting that Jesus healed on multiple levels, physical, psychological, spiritual, and social. In just five verses of text, Jesus undermines the purity system and in the process makes himself unclean (in the eyes of the priesthood). He subverts the authority of the priesthood by healing the man first and only then sending him to the priest—effectively reversing the protocol for re-inclusion. The priests are forced to realize that everyone has unbrokered access to the Kingdom of God without need for professional intermediaries. Jesus’ healing of the man is a healing of a religious system that associates illness with sin and impurity, and it is that healing of a social illness that deprives diseased people of touch. Great stuff.
But if I were to have to summarize what’s going on in these healing stories I would say that Jesus heals through hope. He is the presence of the future (the unmanifest, but ever present Kingdom of God), reaching across the illusion of separation (and the world of hurt that is separation’s fruit), touching our lives with fresh possibilities. Make no mistake. Leprosy was a large stone rolled across the tomb of the victims life. There was no future. This is precisely the point that Mark is making by being the only gospel that doesn’t have an explicit Easter story (in the original ending). The reader is forced to go back and start reading again in order to get that Jesus’ whole life was a resurrection, an in-breaking of the future into a present order that was desperately sealed off from any alternate future.
What’s more, those who follow him are the ones willing to be the future present—to reignite the flame of expectation that a future is coming that represents the divine imagination for our planet and species. That is a great definition of disciple; the discipled or disciplined life is one that is on fire with hope. For me, this flame was reignited through an evolutionary perspective that is grounded in an evidence-based narrative for the presence of hope. The universe is in the business of birthing new futures that represent increased unity and diversity; increased beauty and order (which includes chaos and randomness); increased empathic intelligence; and increasing capacity for consciousness. For billions of years it did so unconsciously. Now, in us, it has gained the capacity for conscious future-shaping, which means an acceleration in the speed of evolutionary processes. This is all animated by Spirit, the dynamism implicit in this impulse for transcendence. Jesus is the embodiment (incarnation) of that impulse. And so we all are who look to this Nazarene for a picture of a preferred future.
The actual dialogue between the leper and Jesus is telling. The man is full of confidence that Jesus embodies the in-breaking of a future that was effectively closed off to him: “If you choose, you can make me clean”. (Interesting, that he doesn’t say, “you can heal me”. What’s your take on that?) What blew me away is that this healing story isn’t a one way movement of energy from Jesus to ill person. The leper effectively challenges Jesus to match his optimism in an alternative future. This is a conspiracy of confidence. The etymological roots of confidence (literally “with trust”). The leper is the presence of an evolutionary provocation for Jesus. Let’s see if you, Jesus, really trust that a new future is possible. If you are willing to reach across from that future into my present conditions and touch an unclean person, it is a sign that you are willing to initiate the collapse of the house of cards called the purity code, and thereby allow the emergence of a new order of Spirit to inform the system. “If you choose…”
Notice that the leper’s challenge causes Jesus to make a conscious choice. It evokes an incredibly powerful three word sentence. “I do choose.” The two of them are building a field of resonance, born of their mutual willingness to imagine and enact a new future right on the spot, in the midst of the present oppressive order. There is an energetic reciprocity, a mutual choosing into that new future, that actually enacts that new future in the present. Again, we have a pretty fine definition of the church right there. Together we build a field of resonance, born of a deep trust (con-fidence) that a new future is already on its way. And if you want proof of it, then just look at the way we are with each other. See how the flame of expectation burns in our hearts. Look closely and see that we’re already living out of that future in how we show up for each other and the world, and how we show up with each and the world.
It’s interesting that “getting your hopes up” is usually negatively expressed. “Don’t get your hopes up.” I guess it’s because the promise inherent in life has been broken so often that we feel as though we can’t face disappointment again. But compromised hope issues in cynicism and skepticism, both fashionable in today’s culture. Jesus emerged, child of the cosmos, son of the divine, as one who became the flame of promise and refused to have it doused by disappointment. He is the guy who gets our hopes up. Those who follow him somehow need to find that flame in themselves, in each other, and in the community. Because this is the good news: the divine future is always in the process of breaking in upon those who are willing for form this conspiracy of confidence. The even better news is that this is natural, this is just what the universe ceaselessly does, and it does so through us and as us. We can choose into it, literally in every moment. Not easy, but Jesus never promised easy.
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