Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Mark 1
40 A man with leprosy[a] came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”
41 Jesus was indignant.[b] He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.
43 Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 44 “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” 45 Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.

If you are willing…I am willing.

Imaging the relief when I tell wedding couples that they only have to remember one thing. Just one thing, two words actually, and a stress-free wedding day can be yours. Everything else is scripted, guided, whispered, or just plain obvious, so all they have to remember is “I will.”

“Will you take this man/woman to be your husband/wife?” And the answer, committed to memory, is “I will.”

This is where the wedding trivia gets fun. Under Ontario law, there are only three legal requirements, three things that form the essential parts of the day, excluding awkward speeches and dress you will never wear again. First is the “I will” question, which simply establishes that you are there of your own free will. Very important.

Next is the “just cause” question, which I like to say very slowly, but will say quickly now for the sake of time: “If anyone here can show just cause why these two persons may not lawfully be married now is the time to declare it.” Then, a really long pause. C’mon, you have to add a little drama to the day.

Finally, the third and last legal requirement, the one that makes clergy feel more important than we really are, is the solemn declaration that the couple is now husband and wife.

And that’s it. You don’t need vows, you don’t need “Ava Maria,” you just need to express a willingness to be there, promise that there are no impediments, and let me say that thing that really makes it feel like my special day. I’ll even say that to the bride: “You know, I’m the minister, so really it’s my special day.” Then watch a remarkable mix of emotions until they realize I’m just having a bit of fun.

If you are willing…I am willing.

Mark’s telling of the healing of the man with leprosy is less about healing and leprosy and more about the interaction between this man and Jesus. A question is asked, Jesus gets mad, the question is answered, a man is healed, a man is warned, and the man ignores the warning. Jesus gets mobbed.

Now, if this story was told anywhere else in the Gospels, it might make less sense. But here, at the beginning, we get a sense that Jesus always knew what was coming. Baptism by John, that was a small affair. Temptation in the wilderness, that happened in private. Calling the disciples, that was one-on-one. But healing a man of a dreaded disease, removing from him the stigma of being unclean, allowing him rejoin society: that was going to get out.

So the initial reaction is anger. The NIV prefers ‘indignation,’ part of an age-old debate whether Jesus, in his perfection, could even get angry. Whatever it is—annoyance, anger, indignation—Jesus had a strong reaction to the request. But he did it anyway, he healed the man, even thought he knew that after the healing everything would change.

And how could it not change? Who doesn’t have an ailment to take to the miracle man appearing suddenly in their midst? Jesus I’m colourblind, can you heal me. Jesus my neck is stiff, Jesus my doctor says drop 10 pounds, can you help me out. Everyone had something, and in a society without proper medicine was going to search for this miracle man in order to get better.

This is the first theory, then, that Jesus is outed as a healer, and now knows he will never rest until everyone in Israel is healed. But I have another theory, and this one relates to sales: Commonly known by salesmen and manipulative children and anyone trying to get what they want is to create a culture of yes.

Are you enjoying this weather? Yes.
Are you from around here? Yes.
Wanna buy a car? Yes.

The theory here is we are naturally led in the direction of that eventual yes, the yes that will seal the deal. The next time someone calls you to offer you mortgage insurance or duct cleaning, notice that they are creating the culture of yes the minute you pick up the phone.

Children try this too. Sometimes it’s a bit obvious, like “I want you to say ‘yes’ to the next thing I ask you.” I won’t fall for that one again. But sometimes it’s truly subtle, starting with some kind of willingness statement like “If you don’t mind, I’d like to borrow the car.” Immediately, even before we get to the meat of the question, we are thinking “why would I mind?” And what follows is usually a yes.

If you are willing…I am willing.

Manipulation or not, Jesus was willing, is willing, to heal us and make us whole. Even before we ask the question, Jesus is willing, and maybe that’s why he finds the question so annoying. Jesus is God’s great YES to humanity, the answer to every question:

Yes, I will make you my own.
Yes, I will liberate you from Pharaoh.
Yes, I will redeem you from exile.
Yes, I will send you my son.
Yes, I will forgive you for what you did to my son.
Yes, I will hear your prayers.
Yes, I will answer.

If you are willing…I am willing.

Logical or not, God is willing to walk with us even in our limitations and failures. From our earliest days we are trying to sell something. Yes, I’m a good boy, and yes, someone else must have eaten that cookie. From our earliest days we obfuscate, aggravate, acerbate and everything else worthy of our parents anger and frustration. From our earliest days we test God’s willingness to love and forgive and it just keeps happening.

If you are willing…I am willing.

Then the willingness tests get bigger: We want to trade our dirty oil for a couple of panda bears. We want to experiment with something called ‘fracking’ the earth just to see what damage we can truly do. Dictators want to kill their own people, and we seem to want to let them. We want trash TV, and trash-talk and we want it in High Def and 3D. And we want constant assurance that we’re somehow special and not at all like all the other people who want to be special too. And somehow God is willing to put up with all of this.

If you are willing…I am willing.

Jesus says “Are you willing to take this human race and name them your own?” And to this God says “I will.”

And if God is willing to take us and name us as God’s own, then how will we respond? If God is willing to overlook all our brokenness and foolishness and still claim us, how will we respond? And if God is busy putting before us opportunities to love and serve others, to forgive others and forgive ourselves, then how will we respond?

If you are willing…I am willing. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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