February 11, 2018 - Misfortune
A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, "If you wish, you can make me clean." Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, "I do will it. Be made clean." The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. He said to him, "See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them." The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere.
In Jesus’s time, misfortune was a sign of God’s disfavor. It was assumed that if bad things happened to you, you deserved it. That was the message of Job’s friends last week; the same message that was so vehemently rejected by God. Nonetheless, centuries later it was still the accepted theology. Read Chapter Nine of The Gospel of John to see just how ingrained it was – even late in his ministry Jesus’s disciples couldn’t see past it.
By healing the leper, Jesus is doing more than performing a miracle. He is pronouncing the leper the beloved of God. The man’s leprosy was not a sign of God’s disfavor, his leprosy has attracted the loving concern of God.
This is the oft-overlooked point of the Beatitudes too. When Jesus said the poor are blessed, he was not saying it was a good thing to be poor and that we should all live in poverty. He was rejecting the Pharisees’ theology that the poor were poor because they had done something bad and were being punished by God. No! Jesus was saying their poverty is bad luck, and far from being the accursed of God, the poor attract God’s loving concern all the more. Blessed are the poor.
Popular (and institutional) theology in our day still envisions us as being here to accomplish some purpose, prove ourselves, develop our talents, be of service - to be capable of earning God's love or rebuke. It all sounds good, and its social utility can’t be denied, but it is contrary to Scripture.