The following evening as the ecclesia began to gather, Mark could not help but notice that the courtyard was becoming increasingly crowded. He commented on this to Simeon, who was reclining beside him at one of the low tables. “Does that surprise you?” Simeon asked. “After all, you walked the hills of Galilee with Jesus – few can say that any longer. And you traveled with Paul and Barnabas, served Peter in Rome before his martyrdom: my friend, your presence among us is a rare opportunity for our community, and the ecclesia has invited friends and neighbors to come and listen to you.” Simeon gestured towards the entrance, where Yiftach and a half dozen others were arriving. “Even Yiftach, it seems, brings new friends to hear you speak.”
Mark looked around the courtyard, and waves of memories flooded over him. In how many courtyards like this had he broken bread? Courtyards in Lystra, Iconium, Antioch, Pisidia, and Pamphylia. As he pictured that particular courtyard, he felt the dull ache of an old man’s regret. But as always, that regret was soon followed by the warm memory of the grace and kindness and belief that Barnabas had shown in him as a young man. With that encouraging memory fresh in mind, Mark stood to address the gathering.
“Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. When we last gathered I spoke of Jesus healing many of those in Kefer Nahum who suffered from disease and demon possession. For those of us whose lives are lived in Jerusalem, especially those of us raised in privilege, it is important to remember how devastating disease and injuries can be for the multitude of day laborers in Galilee. If you do not work, you do not eat.” Some of Yiftach’s friends murmured their assent to this statement. “And as we know,” continued Mark, “if you are diseased you cannot participate in the life of the people. Isolation can be as devastating as illness. It is no wonder that the crowds pressed Jesus wherever he went. Often in the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus would rise and depart to a lonely place to pray. He did so that first morning in Kefer Nahum. When they realized Jesus had left, Simon and his companions hunted for him; and they found him and said to him, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’ Jesus responded, ‘Let us go somewhere else, to the towns nearby, in order that I may preach there also; for that is what I came out for.’ And he went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out the demons.”
Mark paused to take a drink before continuing. “In one of those villages a leper came to him, pleading with him, falling on his knees before him and saying, ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean.’” A question from the crowd interrupted Mark’s narrative. “How could Jesus make him clean? Only the priests can declare that a leper is clean.” Mark’s eyes settled on the questioner – it was the same young woman who had asked a question several nights earlier. “You are right,” said Mark. “For even if Jesus heals the disease, it is only the priests who can declare a person clean – able to fully rejoin the life of the community.”
Yiftach called out. “Well, Jesus has already claimed the scribes’ realm for himself. Why not take on the priests as well?” Mark had not heard sarcasm in the question and so responded, “Why not, indeed? I wonder if the leper knew that what he was asking of Jesus would pit him against the priests. It might have been that he was almost daring Jesus to make him clean. Jesus apparently did indeed dare, for, moved with compassion, he stretched out his hand, touched the leper and said to him, ‘I am willing; be cleansed.’”
“He touched the leper?” exclaimed the young woman. “Yes,” responded Mark. “Then surely Jesus made himself unclean in doing so?” “Certainly,” agreed Mark, “at least in the eyes of the Law, and, of course, the priests. But instead of the leper making Jesus unclean, at Jesus’ touch the leprosy immediately left the man, and he was cleansed.” Mark’s mother pushed herself up from where she reclined and spoke. “As you know, our purity code tells us that when the unclean touch the clean, the clean become…” Her voice took on a distasteful tone. “…contaminated. Under the priestly code, people become walking communicable diseases. And so we keep our distance, isolate them – people made in the image of God.” She shook her head. “So yes, in touching the man Jesus should have become unclean. Instead, the leper became clean. Jesus reversed the flow – and in doing so he overturned the power of the priestly symbolic order of purity that still dominates our lives.” Mark nodded thoughtfully. “Jesus, snorting with indignation, sent the leper away, saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a witness against them.’”
The young woman spoke up again. “But that is what the Law that G_d has given requires. Is Jesus overturning the Law, as well as the authority of the priests?” Mark responded. “A good question, my sister. And to be honest, I do not know if I can offer a satisfactory answer. Other than to say that the Son of G_d came preaching that the kingdom of G_d has drawn near – a kingdom that includes the most marginalized: those who have been excluded by the priests. Jesus sent the leper to the priests to be a witness against the purity system they upheld. But apparently the leper believed that Jesus had the authority to declare him clean, for instead of going to the priests, he went out and began to proclaim what had happened freely, to spread the news about, to such an extent that Jesus could no longer publicly enter a city, but stayed out in unpopulated areas; and the people came to him from everywhere…”