Mark 1:40-45 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. Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: ‘‘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.’’ 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.
Jesus was willing to get radically and unconventionally involved with people. He didn’t minister from a safe distance; instead, he came close to people and got his hands dirty—literally. We all know what it means to have problems and to be embarrassed about certain aspects of our lives. Someone who gives us pat answers when we are in need or who pays little or no attention to our deeply-felt concerns will certainly never win us over. Conversely, Jesus demonstrates that we can have a powerful and lasting impact on someone else if we are willing to go deep.
Mark describes Jesus’ emotional state as he is confronted by this man with leprosy. In order to understand his reaction, it’s important to try to imagine what it must be like to be ‘‘filled with compassion.’’ There was absolutely no room left in Jesus for fear, disgust or apprehension. Most of us would probably have a significant portion of these other emotions in a similar situation. Perhaps the only time we experience the undiluted emotion of compassion is at the movies when the hero or heroine suffers grief at the death of a loved one. Because we are observing from a safe distance, there is no need for fear. But how can we, with our fear and suspicion and self-interest, relate to Jesus in a real-life situation that demands compassion? And what does compassion have to do with having an impact?
Jesus demonstrates that it is sometimes good to go along with the overflow of our emotions—when these emotions cause us to do something good for the other person and not something bad against him. Jesus knew that his emotional state was righteous, and because of this he did not hesitate to reach out and touch this diseased man. He didn’t try to ‘‘control himself,’’ to act only on the basis of reason; instead, he let his emotions move him. How many other people may have felt compassion for this same man without ever acting on their feelings? How many may have even caught themselves reaching out with a loving touch and then had abruptly pulled back, realizing the personal danger inherent in such an act? Surely the well-meaning people who walked by with their compassion bottled up inside them had only a negative impact on the leper.
Some of us are so afraid of being too emotional that we go through life all bottled up inside. We are so disciplined and calculating that our touch turns cold, soon to be followed by our hearts. The world is in dire need of people who don’t withhold their love. It’s sad that in many circles it’s considered a strength to ‘‘control’’ or suppress emotions and a weakness to act on them. Real strength is displayed in a man like Jesus who was able to deny himself when his emotions were against what is good† and who acted without hesitation on emotions that produced good.