February 12, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“And a leper came to [Jesus], imploring Him, and kneeling said to Him, ‘If You will, You can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, He stretched out His hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean.’”
“Past performance is not an indicator of future results.” How often have you heard that phrase uttered on television or radio? It appears every time that an advertisement about financial investments runs. They show you how gold prices or mutual fund rates have increased, attempting you to place your money and trust in them. But the warning is given: just because there has been financial increases in the past doesn’t mean that it will happen in the future. There is no guarantee.
So what does have to do with today’s Gospel Reading? It helps to explain the actions of the leper who confronts Jesus. The portion of Mark’s account that you heard this morning concludes the first chapter of his Gospel. The Evangelist has given you an initial profile about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He has recorded several events where Jesus has performed remarkable deeds, primarily in the Galilean city of Capernaum. Jesus preached with authority. He cast out an unclean spirit. He cured a fever that made a woman bed-ridden. When all sorts of ill people were brought into His presence, Jesus healed their diseases. And His fame spread throughout the region—fame that reached the ears of the leper who is written about in today’s Gospel Reading.
This leper was an outcast. That is the result of his disease. He is ill. But more than that, he is unclean. His disease requires that he leave society, lest others contract it. It cuts him off from participation in the cultic events meant for the Lord’s people. He cannot gather to listen to Moses and the Prophets being read in the synagogue. He cannot go to the Temple and celebrate the great festival days like the Passover. This man lives away from the kinfolk of his tribe.
But what had happened in Capernaum didn’t stay in Capernaum. Jesus’ actions became well known because of their miraculous nature. Galilee was abuzz with the news of what Jesus had done. It even reached the outcasts of society. That is known from the actions of the leper. So when Jesus travels around the region, even in the areas away from the cities where the lepers and other outcasts dwelled, this man confronts Him: “And a leper came to [Jesus], imploring Him, and kneeling said to Him, ‘If You will, You can make me clean.’”
Note well what the leper does. He begs Jesus for aid. He worships Jesus by taking a posture of humility. What drives him to such actions? It is what this man has heard about Jesus and His actions in Capernaum. And then the man says to Jesus: “If You will, You can make me clean.” It is a profound statement. The leper recognizes that Jesus has ability. He believes what he has heard about Jesus’ miraculous deeds. He trusts that Jesus can cleanse him. But he prefaces that statement with a significant phrase: “If You will….”
Those words uttered by the leper reflect an uncertainty. The previous actions of Jesus show that He can heal. But is that healing meant for this leper? Is Jesus’ past performance indicative of future results? Will He heal this man? It isn’t a statement of doubt in Jesus’ ability, but it is a question about Jesus’ desire. The leper says: “If You will, You can make me clean.” And implied in that statement is the potential opposite result: if Jesus does not desire to help the leper, He can leave him unclean.
So how does Jesus react to this man? You are told about His thoughts: “Moved with pity, He stretched out His hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean.’” Does Jesus want to heal the leper? Yes. The pity that Jesus has when witnessing the brokenness that sin causes in His creation drives Him to act. He wants this leper to be made whole, to be clean. He discloses His desire by telling him: “I will….” And what Jesus desires is enacted. Touching the unclean man and speaking the commanding word of healing, Jesus makes the leper clean: “And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.” Receiving the benefit of Jesus’ gracious will, the leper is restored. He is rid of his disease. He is made eligible to participate in all that the Lord’s people can do.
This matter of Jesus’ will and the fulfilling of it are important for all of you to note. That is why this event is recorded in Mark’s account of Jesus’ words and works. First it is important to see that what Jesus desires to do will take place. Because of this, there is a certainty that your faith can latch onto. When Jesus makes a promise, He fulfills it. When He wants to accomplish something for you, He will do it. That is why you participate in so many things that the Church does here on earth believing that you will be aided by the acts through which Jesus works. You are baptized because you believe Jesus’ statement that He wants disciples to be made and has established the means by which they are made. You come to be absolved because you believe what Jesus says concerning His appointment of representatives to loose sins in heaven by loosing them here on earth. You partake of Jesus’ holy meal because you believe that the new testament that He has established in His blood brings forgiveness to you. You address Jesus’ eternal Father with direct requests for daily bread, forgiveness of sins, safety from temptation, and deliverance from evil because He has told you to ask for such things.
Why do you act so boldly by participating in those actions that Jesus’ Church does on earth? Because you have been told His will for you. It has been disclosed in the accounts of His words and works. Moved with pity, Jesus has lived perfectly for you, died sacrificially for you, and rose to life victoriously for you. His gracious will to grant salvation has been displayed. He has said it is meant for you. It is His will to do great things for your salvation. He has disclosed His will in His words. You recognize the greatness in what the Son of God has promised to you. Trusting what He has said, you come to receive His blessings and benefits that He desires to give. In other words, you come to hear Jesus say to you: “I will; be clean.”
But the matter of Jesus’ will and desire also comes into play when discussing other matters where He has not given direct promises. Even when speaking about Jesus, there is truth to that phrase: “Past performance is not an indicator of future results.” During the past several weeks, you have heard about Jesus’ past performances. You have heard about His miraculous deeds in Capernaum. You believe in His ability that these actions show. You make great statements of faith about Jesus based on these actions: that He bears authority over all things in heaven and earth, that He can command the demonic, that He can heal disease. But are you meant to receive all the same actions that the people in Capernaum did?
That last question—the question that the leper had in his mind—brings up the matter of Jesus’ will and desire. It is an issue about what He has promised, what He has guaranteed. Just because He has done such things in the past does not mean that He will do so now for you. That is something you deal with in your lives here on earth. There are many examples of it. You have suffered illness, and so you have prayed for healing, trusting in Jesus’ ability to grant it. But for some of you, it has not come. You have been afflicted by the assaults of mind or soul, and so you have asked for Jesus to use His power to overcome them. But again, it does not happen for some of you. You have wanted some earthly blessing—goods, fame, child, or spouse—so you have requested Jesus to take action. But it is not granted to you.
So is your faith mistaken? Is your Lord not able to do such things? No. The issue is not in the ability, but in the will: not your ability and will, but the Lord’s ability and will. In the matters where Jesus has not given His direct promise, you must ask the way that the leper in today’s Gospel Reading did: “If You will, You can….” And when what you ask for is not aligned with the Lord’s will, it is not granted to you. It isn’t a matter of you didn’t pray hard enough or didn’t say the magic words or didn’t believe with enough effort. No, it is a matter of acknowledging that there are areas of life where your Lord has not made promises to you. And in those areas, contentment only comes when you receive what He grants to you according to His will and don’t covet what others have been given.
So as you hear the accounts of Jesus’ words and works, look for where He has given His guarantee. There are matters where He has made everlasting covenant promises to you. This is where “past performance will be an indicator of future results.” Listen for where He has said to you: “I will….” Wherever that promise is made, cling to it. Grab hold of what your Lord desires for you. Know that what He wills does come to pass for you, His people. Trust in the “great word” of Jesus about what He has done for your redemption and how He delivers it to you. Offer your prayers and requests by saying: “Lord, You have said that You desire my salvation, my forgiveness, my life, so grant it to me.” Declare your “Amen” that says: “Yes, it shall be so, because You have promised it.” And you shall be made clean from your sin, restored to righteousness, and reconciled with God the Father, just as your Lord promises and desires.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.