Show the “Mark” of Jesus When Walking
As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed (Lk. 17:12-14, NIV).
In the classic vernacular of gumshoe sleuth stories, I often feel like I’m a "mark.” It’s not that I’m gullible, but instead, I seem to have “Gentle Giant” invisibly tattooed over me. Even a good abrasive scrub of occasional anger or irritability doesn’t seem to exfoliate the “easygoing and personable” nature of my appearance.
For example, while in New York City in 2012 for job training, I was with some of my colleagues as we walked through Times Square. Somehow, I was the only one in the group who spontaneously ended up with a CD in my hand and with a street vender in my ear as he rapped about being the next great soon-to-be-discovered musician. All he needed was a one dollar investment towards his stardom — and in return, he would autograph this collectible, TDK-brand CD (in its clear jewel case) that someday would be worth a fortune. We talked, and he made me laugh, and in the end, I gave him a dollar because of his creative approach to panhandling. (No, I never did have the heart to actually listen to the CD in fear that it really was just a blank compact disc).
This story, however, underscores how we evaluate other people — sometimes to the point of avoiding them — while also failing to recognize our own vulnerabilities and our own judgmental tendencies.
And herein lies one of the greatest obstacles to the growth and to the health of the small church. The protective insulation of our “close-knit communities” (or cliques) within the church has become a type of fellowship fiberglass: it might block out the coldness of the world, but it also keeps the draft of a drifter — an unbeliever — from seeking shelter within the very place in which he or she should seek answers!
The Outcasts Sought Jesus
In the above scriptural reference, ten men with leprosy essentially ambushed Jesus in the countryside between Samaria and Galilee. The round number of “ten” might very well represent a community of “outcasts” with either mild or serious skin conditions that marked them as “unclean.”
The ten men, however, courageously have left the borders of their social confinement. And when they see Jesus, they don’t just whisper — but instead, they call out to him in a loud, unified voice probably amplified by tears of desperation: “Master!” They call out to him with a title by which only the disciples have addressed Jesus — “Master!”
Oh, what a Master can do when his followers ask, seek, find, and BELIEVE in the impossible!
Jesus’s response isn’t to concoct a healing balm from mud and to catapult it to the lepers from a safe distance. His response isn’t to consult WebMD or to call in a referral to the Mayo Clinic while walking away. Instead, he powerfully speaks with divine authority and tells the men to go to their religious community (and by obediently doing so, they shed the sores from their skin with each step taken). Jesus told the lepers to go to the priests to show themselves (in order to receive a certificate of cleansing). But, I also believe that Jesus wanted the religious community to be astounded at the sight of ten healed lepers — and then to “leap with joy” and to celebrate God’s goodness.
In other words, “going to the religious community” should mean a celebration of the miracles already performed and the pursuit of even more!
Don’t Shut Out Those Who Need Mercy
I don’t have to go far to see those still living in exclusion. Rows of weathered tents and piles of personal possessions appear like ghostly figures from behind the trees in the ravine behind my apartment complex. But homeless encampments are just a more visible sign of exclusion. Social media has become a wilderness from which teenagers and others in search of identity or acceptance peer out from the pixelated and comment-riddled abyss of “tweets,” “likes,” and “angry emojis.”
The modern trend, however, is that they won’t seek out help from Christians (like the lepers who sought out Jesus) because a growing majority of Americans — when polled about religious concerns — now view the church as “irrelevant.”
I have to wonder if this is because the local church has forgotten how to speak with its divine authority given to us through Jesus (i.e., speaking truth, showing compassion, acting with urgency, serving in mission, and spreading the kingdom life). In the spiritual and moral void left by a church that whispers rather than calls out “Jesus — Master!” we find ourselves drowned out by the noise of increasing violence, murders, mass shootings, and drug epidemics.
Here is where we can walk the border of true life versus despair — just as Jesus walked the border of Samaria and Galilee and spoke healing to the lepers. When our communities cry out for answers, we can call out to our Merciful Master and show how God greatly values ALL human life!
And it’s not being gullible — or to be a “mark” — to walk around with this label of mercy, kindness, and gentleness visible upon us … it’s to bear the mark of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
Jesus, Master! We seek you with our hearts and our voices. We cry out to you to lead us by your power and wisdom. May we give our "everything" to help "everyone" find a loving relationship with you. Amen.
Rev. Brian Keithline
Pastor, FBC of Loveland
American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains