Thursday, May 7, 2009

Are you contagious?

Have you been washing your hands more this week? Seems everywhere I go (including the church) there are reminders to wash your hands. We’re afraid of catching something. Specifically, we’re afraid of catching the germs that spread the H1N1 flu virus. That’s understandable. And even if all the hand washing is an overreaction to this particular new virus, it certainly can’t hurt in the fight against all sorts of other illnesses. Doctors and other health professionals tell us that washing our hands is the very best way to prevent catching someone else’s cold or flu (see the post below).

Historically, when people have been afraid of catching something, I mean really afraid, they’ve done more than wash their hands. Very often, as has been the case in a few countries during this scare, suspected disease carriers were separated from the public at large. In Jesus’ day, one of the only ways they knew how to keep people from catching leprosy was to make all the lepers leave town. But it wasn’t just the lepers who found themselves ostracized. Religious people weren’t simply afraid of catching a disease, they were equally afraid of catching sin. So just as adamantly as they stayed away from the lepers, they also attempted to stay away from the sinners. It seemed self-evident to them that sin, like disease, was contagious. They even used the same word to describe both the sick and the sinner – unclean.

We can understand, then, why Jesus’ way of walking in this world caused so many people to quiver in fear and long for their own personal bottles of Purell. In a culture that thought uncleanliness was contagious, Jesus dined with, identified with, and touched the unclean. He embraced the leper. He conversed with the prostitute. He dined with the hard living crowd. And instead of Jesus catching their sin – they caught his grace. This truth is not something we think about often enough. Just as evil is contagious, so is goodness. That’s the message of the gospel. I wonder today, which have you caught? Which are you spreading?

A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, "If you are willing, you can make me clean."
Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.- Mark 1:40-42

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