Thursday, January 13, 2022

Close encounters


The Gospel set for Holy Communion today, Mark 1:40-45, catches Jesus out in a compromising position. He has been in close personal contact with someone from whom he is supposed to be socially distanced—someone who might infect him and others—and subsequently he has tried, and failed, to keep this event quiet, out of the public eye. Now he is at the centre of a storm of unwanted attention.

What is interesting is the agency of the outcast or marginalised man. The word my English translation renders ‘begging’—a word that draws out an emotion of disgust and thoughts of shaming, in my cultural context—combines the Greek words to come close-beside someone and to testify to their character and actions. It can be used as a word to describe encouraging someone or admonishing someone.

The leper comes close beside Jesus, to reveal something about him. What this man acts to reveal is that Jesus is both willing (a question of desire) and able (a question of power) to cleanse him, to address the (albeit temporarily necessary) injustice of his isolation from human touch. The desire and power of the leper reveals the desire and power of the celebrated man Jesus.

That is fascinating and exposes our assumptions of where will (or desire) and the means to act on that will (that is, power) lie.

Regardless of our social standing, we can exercise the will and the power to come close-beside someone else to admonish or encourage them, by witnessing to their will and power to do good, or their refusal to respond with such compassion.

We can stand with others, or at a distance. We can empower others or keep power for our own self-interest. We can move to restore others as quickly and fully as possible, preferring them before ourselves—even at cost to ourselves—or not. We can participate in human dignity, or by our actions send ourselves into exile.


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