What Did Jesus Do?
(Mark 1: 12-15)
“In a powerful sermon preached at the July meeting of the House of Bishops, Bishop Scott Hayashi of Utah said something that might be helpful to us. He made mention of the little acronym, WWJD, What Would Jesus Do? And, while he said that it can be a helpful way of discerning what we might be called to do at any given time, he offered another alternative. He said, “What would happen if we began to ask the question, not what would Jesus do, but what did Jesus do? What did he do? What did he teach? What do Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tell us that Jesus did and taught?” I want to suggest that addressing that question, “What did Jesus do?” and summoning the Spirit to help us apply it to our lives and to our times may mean the difference between the church simply being another religious institution that exists for its own sake versus the church being a Jesus movement that courageously follows the way of Jesus and his love; not for its own sake, but for the sake of the world that Christ gave his life for and rose from the dead.” (Quoted from the Presiding Bishop’s Word to the Church)
My seminary professor wisely cautioned his seminarians to be mindful of the fact that when we do exegetical reflection for preaching or teaching, we should always consider three pillars (1) time the text was addressing (2) the context it was written for and (3) time and context determine content. The gospel reference (Mark 1:12-15) is about Jesus healing a leper; Matthew 26:6 identifies the leper to be Simon in whose house a woman anointed the feet of Jesus in preparation for his suffering, death and burial and ultimate resurrection.
Leprosy was a dreaded infectious disease that was damaging at several levels. (1) Physically, the disease could be painful and sometimes fatal. (2) Socially, the law required lepers to be quarantined outside of Israelite society (Leviticus 13:45-46). (3) Religiously, lepers were ritually unclean and thus unable to participate in worship (Leviticus 13:3,8). The combined weight of these burdens was extreme, and nothing was more welcome than healing and cleansing.
It was unthinkable for a Jew to touch a leprous outcast. Jesus nevertheless crosses this boundary and reverses the expected outcome: instead of contracting ritual uncleanness himself, he cleanses the leper of this ailment by the very act of touching him. This shows that Jesus brings into the world a new form of holiness that overcomes even defilement and disease. This act shows the divine aspect of Christ.
What is equally interesting in this miracle event was the human aspect and action of Jesus. After he did that divine act he was conscientious and observant of the community’s expectation by instructing the leper to go and show himself to the priest, the person who had the authority to authenticate his healing and confirm his return back to full inclusion into societal life. Second, Jesus took the place of the leper by going into exile from society. Jesus observed the standard protocol of the culture by entering into quarantine in the countryside (although he did continue to maintain accessibility to those who chose to come visit with him). Jesus traded places with the leper in that while the leper was returned to his family and community, Jesus went outside the sphere of Israelite society.
This is precisely the nature of our Lord and Savior who by his death and resurrection “swapped places” with us all. By swapping places with him, Jesus allowed Simon to remain wholesome and be permitted to return to God and society. Healing is about Jesus’ empathy, that is walking in our ‘shoes’, feeling our pain, undergoing our rejection from others; redemption is about Jesus living vicariously through us and we through him.
The question is asked, what did Jesus do in a health and safety crisis? He observed the protocol of the day by showing respect for the law and societal expectation. Yet at the same time his love and care for the leper remained paramount, he was willing to put the welfare of the ‘holy other’ before his personal safety and well-being. Through this balance his place in society was retained and Jesus practiced what he preached, that is, “to love your neighbor as yourself…” (Luke 10: 27). In quarantine he continued to show himself as the prophet with authority more superior than other contemporary prophets.
I understand and identify with the concern many have for wearing masks. It is ‘pesky’ and ‘uncomfortable’ to keep on all the time, a genuine ‘nuisance’. And yet it is also the protocol of our day and a societal expectation. I go to cardio rehab at Easton Memorial Hospital and everyone without exception is required to wear a mask. If not, the person isn’t permitted to enter the building. In addition, before every visit we are asked the protocol questions, both the day before we are expected to attend and again when we enter the facility. I go three times a week, wearing a mask while working out on the equipment for 90 minutes. It is awful and uncomfortable to breathe but I desire to live, likewise I value the life of the person working out next to me.
I don’t enjoy doing so, but it is the protocol instituted by the hospital to protect the health and safety of everyone. Jesus commands us to practice the ‘Golden Rule’ – “in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7: 12), “do to others as you would have them do to you (Luke 6: 31). A genuine form of active contribution to the welfare and happiness of others.
Also, when I wear a mask, I protect you from catching any virus, especially one as lethal as COVID 19, that travels like a ‘thief in the night’- the invisible enemy. And, that is because I love you so much that I can’t bear to see you feel uncomfortable when you are in my presence. Wearing a mask is equally a pastoral statement as it is a health and safety practice, it is about the ‘holy other’ person’s comfort and safety, a caring demonstration of my love for you and you for me.
As Christians we embody the spirit and teaching of Jesus in the daily practice of living in community. Jesus challenges us to take care of each other because it shows that we are living by his standard. Personally, I am convinced that’s how the good news of Jesus is best proclaimed to the world, and certainly offers a more impactful and transformative way of practicing evangelism.