A leper came to [Jesus], imploring Him, and kneeling said to Him: “If You will, You can make me clean.” Moved with pity, [Jesus] stretched out His hand and touched [the leper] and said to him: “I will; be clean.”
Ability and desire are two different concepts. There’s the “can” and then there is the “wanna.” Just because someone can do something doesn’t mean that they have the “want-to.” Are they motivated to act upon their abilities? It’s a question that each of you has to evaluate, often doing so before asking for a person’s favor.
You see the same thing happen in the Gospel Reading for today. The leper who comes to Jesus for healing mentions both of these concepts: ability and desire. This man knows about himself, about the illness he has which leaves no hope. He will die because of it. That is the fate of most lepers. But this man has heard about Jesus of Nazareth, that there is Someone who has both the ability and the desire to heal.
That the leper has heard about Jesus is implicit in the text. The past two weeks, you have heard Mark’s account of Jesus’ work in
So it is that when the leper can encounter Jesus outside the confines of a town, he decides to press the “can and want-to” questions. This is what Mark describes: “A leper came to Jesus, imploring Him, and kneeling said to Him: ‘If You will, You can make me clean.’” The leper’s words show his belief in Jesus’ ability: “You can make me clean.” This is a statement of faith, a simple creed about Jesus. There is no doubt in the leper’s mind that Jesus can heal.
But the “want-to” question remains. Note what the leper says: “If You will . . . .” The leper puts the question to Jesus: “Is it Your desire to cleanse me? Do You want to heal me, as You healed all those other people in
But it does not take long to answer the leper. Jesus doesn’t make him twist in the wind. The Evangelist writes: “Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him and said to him: ‘I will; be clean.’” And in that simple action, the “can and want-to” questions are fully answered. Jesus indicates that the leper is right, that his faith is true: “Yes, I have the ability to heal you.” But not only does Jesus show His ability, He tells the leper about His desire: “I will.” Jesus wants to heal him; He can heal him; and He does heal him.
When Jesus speaks those words, the faithful leper is cured. Jesus says to him: “I will; be clean.” And the Gospel-Writer says: “Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.” Jesus’ words carry His ability. And when Jesus wants something to occur, He speaks and it is so.
There is much to be learned from this short narrative. The most important is to know about Jesus’ ability and desire for you. What are you to see from this event about Jesus and yourself? First, that as the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus has great abilities. This is the identity and ability issue that the Epiphany Season deals with. Just who is Jesus of Nazareth? That question can be answered based upon what you have heard about His actions.
But the second part, the part about Jesus’ desire for you, needs to be understood as well. Is the ability that Jesus had and used in
The way that Jesus treats the leper in
And so it is that the full story of Jesus includes the act that reconciles all leprous sinners to the Father. Jesus’ sacrificial death is the fulfillment of His identity and His resurrection is the pinnacle of His ability. Jesus lays down His life and takes it up again, so that every single one of you who are spiritually leprous can be healed. Jesus stretches out His hands to be pinned by nails, so that the sin which eats away at your life can be removed. And that healing, that cleansing is done by believing in Jesus’ ability and trusting in His desire to save you. For when you do, then you will be where you can hear Jesus’ words of forgiveness for your sins. You will go to hear Jesus say: “Be clean.” And you will believe those words, whether they be spoken from a pulpit or attached to baptismal waters or connected to the loaf and cup of the altar.
What you believe about Jesus’ identity and ability is put on display here in this room. There is the same action as the Galilean leper’s taking place in this assembly. For you have come, believing that Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for your sin. And you have already implored Him and knelt before Him, saying: “If You will, You can make me clean.” There is no doubt, but the confession of faith that you have made: “If we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And the “can and want-to” questions are answered: “To those who believe in Jesus Christ He gives the power to become children of God and bestows on them the Holy Spirit.”
There the belief in who and what Jesus is and does brings the benefit. It is an act of faith, what you do as you have heard Jesus’ words and learned about His works. They are done for you, done in the divine desire that you be saved. And though the acts of Jesus in this day may not be as dramatic as the healings in
Can Jesus make you clean? Yes, for that is His ability as the Crucified and Risen Son of God. Does Jesus want to cleanse you? Yes, for that is what His crucifixion and resurrection demonstrate, and it is the purpose of His instituting the Church on earth. How does Jesus cleanse you? That is what His Word in verbal and visible form accomplishes, as you receive it and believe it. What Jesus does for the leper in
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.