Moved With Pity

9 Feb

Photo Jeff Hardi – Unsplash – Design Glenn  Loughrey

Mark 1:40-45

Portrait paining is a difficult art form. How do you portray the subject sitting in front of you? Are you required to do a  realistic wart and all image or is it okay to tart it up or add your own impressions to tell a story you want to tell? In the art world people represent all these schools of thought and have opinions on which is the most authentic to portrait painting. In the end you do what you do to tell something about the person in front of you. and you are conscious of a couple of things : how they seem them and how others do and it is a brave artist that steps outside to tell a different and maybe conflicting story.

In terms of portraits, Jesus is the most difficult to do. There is an accepted image people want to see and if you mess with that you are condemned for messing with God and Hell.

In the 2022 Barna report an international survey or polling body, we read:

“Today’s teens think highly of Jesus. About half of all teens describe Jesus as “loving” (49%) and believe he offers hope (46%) and cares about people (43%). The global impression of Jesus is that he is trustworthy, generous, wise and peaceful. For many, Jesus is merciful; he stood up against wrongs, was compassionate, forgave those who wronged him, offered forgiveness and cared for his friends.”

Paint a positive understanding of Jesus that fills the enlightenment idea of a person who we all would like to emulate. It fits with the Jesus of Sunday School and that old hymn “Jesus loves me this I know” and others like it. It has been repeated in sermons from the beginning of the church ad nauseum. and we all nod in agreement.

Or do we? Is it accurate?

Is this how you see Jesus?

Marks Gospel today can be interpreted to support that position. A leper, an outcast in society, comes to Jesus and begs him to heal him, which Jesus does with the word interpreted/translated as compassion. He then tells the bloke (we think it was a bloke but….) to go and do what is required to be done when someone is healed, and to keep quiet about what happened. All except the last occurs.

Lovely story, isn’t it?

But what if there is another reading?

40 “A leper* came to him begging him (daring him), and kneeling* he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ 41Moved with pity (anger),…”

The leper, the person with a skin disease, dares Jesus to heal him, include him, welcome him as a human  deserving to be treated as such. The leper dares Jesus to act decisively and confirm him as diametrically opposed to the priests, scribes and pharisees, knowing that to do so, puts him at odds with the ‘-isms’ that were the accepted truism used by the gatekeepers of the time.

Perhaps after decades of being blamed for his illness and his exclusion, the leper (one with a skin disease) puts Jesus on the spot. Are you like all the others or are you willing, or  do you even want to make me whole – heal my symptoms and breaking down the excuses used to keep me down? Very direct. The implication is that he could already be included in society and the excuse that he needs to be healed is just that, an excuse-based on injustice and power used to demean those not wanted in society.

  • Is it a dare? Yes. It’s a question which can only be answered yes or no, and if yes, requires action that will change, or at least deeply challenge the status quo. The dare is, are you prepared to stand up for what is right and identify yourself as opposed to the continuing spiritual and economic exploitation of those not like you and your kind?
  • Is the leper speaking truth to power? Absolutely. Knowingly or unknowingly, his dare to Jesus is directed far beyond the present situation he finds himself in. He is using his situation and this interaction with a known ‘rabbi’ or holy man to make a point. You have the power to change my situation and that of all like me. Lets do it!
  • Is the leper saying you and those you represent can change the situation for the likes of me and you know you can. Just do it. These are words reflected in the ask of the recent referendum but unlike Jesus Australia didn’t respond out of either pity or compassion.

Jesus responds  to the leper with pity or compassion, the first is indignation or anger, the second is empathy and welcome. Some ancient sources suggests that the reading here is the angry one. It is also suggested the use of the word compassion was a later correction by scribes that better described the image of Jesus they wanted to portray. Jesus may have been angry because he was challenged but he was angrier with the system that maintains the power and keeps people outside. No to recognition/voice and an ask for an Aboriginal Governor General????? A refugee governor in South Australia and refugees in offshore detention??

  • Is Jesus angry? Yes. He sees before him another human being made in the image of God and denied the opportunity for haling and wholeness by a system which labels and excludes. He is fully human and calls for the right of all other human beings to be so too.
  • Who is Jesus angry with? He is angry with his fellow human beings, fellow religious Jews and society which allows this to continue. He is angry with the “sin” in the world that portrays itself as righteousness through the lives of those who control power in society.
  • Is anger a legitimate response to a system that deficits others? Yes. Compassion may be appropriate in a one on one personal engagement but pity, anger, is the right response to what seems to be immovable, impregnable, on-going disrespect for God’s creation and all who inhabit it.

Jesus tells him to show himself to the Priests (as required by law) too be a testimony or the giving of evidence in front of an audience hostile to the outcasts and to the mission of Jesus.

  • The best way to disrupt a system is to do as the system requires. Showing the system, he was healed unconventionally and counter culturally and getting it approved as required, is cheeky to say the least, a middle finger to the authorities.
  • It confirms their authority is temporary and fallible, fragile, and imposed. It is not of country (Christ).
  • It confirms the humanity of those deemed non-human and therefore deserving of protection and exclusion.

Pity is not, as it is betrayed in Christian thinking ,subordinate to compassion, it is integral to birthing a compassion that is real and impactive. Without the anger embedded in pity, compassion becomes a sop to the status quo and leaves those involved worse off than before any engagement.

Jesus models a way of being that positively deconstructs and reconstructs, giving voice and agency to those who are powerless and forgotten. This is not a nice story about a poor person who has been healed, but a direct translation of truth to power through a re-existed human being who challenges those who have up until this time ignored him and those like him.

It is a moment of truth for Jesus, the leper, and the religious institution. It is a moment not to be missed but perhaps it was. And it is still being missed. We are bewitched by compassion and the  status quo, scared of pity and anger, powerless to make the changes our world so desperately needs. Amen

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