Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Balance Between Compassion and Convictions

  Life of Christ 46

          Usually, when Jesus did a miracle related to illness, it was said that He healed the person. Leprosy was different. It wasn't healed, but cleansed. This was because leprosy in Jesus' day was an incurable physical ailment, easily contagious and highly unsightly, and so the leper was considered completely unclean. Interestingly, the Torah, while it goes into great detail about how to determine the early presence of leprosy, and how to establish its absence, makes absolutely no provision for the curing of or cleansing of it. Even the Mishnah, which had a vast collection of mythological miracles done by various rabbis, contains absolutely nothing about a leper being healed or cleansed.
          The Jews of Jesus' day, driven by the Pharisees, could be incredibly harsh toward what they viewed as defilement, or something unclean. To quote Edersheim:

In the elaborate code of defilements leprosy was not only one of the “fathers of uncleanness,” but, next to defilement from the dead, stood foremost amongst them. Not merely actual contact with the leper, but even his entrance defiled a habitation, and everything in it, to the beams of the roof.
True, as wrapped in mourner’s garb the leper passed by, his cry “Unclean!” was to incite others to pray for him – but also to avoid him. No one was even to salute him; his bed was to be low, inclining toward the ground. If he even put his head into a place, it became unclean. No less a distance than four cubits (six feet) must be kept from a leper; or, if the wind came from that direction, a hundred were scarcely sufficient. Rabbi Meir would not eat an egg purchased in a street where there was a leper. Another Rabbi boasted, that he always threw stones at them to keep them far off, while others hid themselves or ran away. To such extent did Rabbinism carry its inhuman logic in considering the leper as a mourner, that it even forbade him to wash his face. As the leper passed by, his clothes rent, his hair disheveled, and the lower part of his face and his upper lip covered, it was as one going to death who reads his own burial service, while the mournful words, “Unclean! Unclean!” which he uttered proclaimed that his was both a living and moral death.

          In light of this we can see that no leper would ever approach a rabbi yet one did of them did dare to approach Jesus (Mark 1.40-45). There must have been something in the demeanor of Jesus Christ, in how He conducted Himself, that spoke to that sick and lonely leper, and told him he might find compassion here. And he did. 'And it came to pass, when he was in a certain city, behold a man full of leprosy: who seeing Jesus fell on his face, and besought him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And he put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will: be thou clean. And immediately the leprosy departed from him' (Luke 5.12-13).
          One of the hallmarks of Jesus' life was His compassion. For years the leper had experienced no sympathetic human touch. Dozens of times yesterday at church I gave a child a gentle hug, or a kiss on the top of the head, or received a welcoming handshake, or an affectionate slap on the back. Such things warm our heart, and assure us that we are accepted within our circle of friends and family. They minister encouragement and good cheer to those to whom the world has only turned a cold shoulder all week. But the leper, not for a week, but for months of years, had experienced no sympathetic human touch. After all, who in their right mind would touch him? Who would want to risk, not only the ritual defilement, but the possibility of contracting such a loathsome disease?
          Jesus did. What compassion there is here! What tenderness and human sympathy expressed toward a cursed and solitary man! Beloved, may we never forget that Jesus cares.
          I am, unashamedly, an independent fundamental Baptist. In saying that I full well realize the various stigmas that go with it, one of which is that we are known as being a group that is against practically everything, it seems. At the moment it is popular in our movement to criticize this, and though I refuse to use this blog to simply address current trends, I must say I find all of that a bit a short sighted, to say the least. It is good that we clearly mark errant behavior, and stand against it, no matter how that makes us look in the eyes of other people. In fact, I think a public and unabashed stand against wrong was modeled by Jesus Christ, and if we want to be Christ like people we must embrace this, even if it comes with a bit of reproach now and again.
          Having said that, it is at least equally important, if not more so, that we don't fall into the trap of letting our distaste of defilement overrule our compassion for people. Yes, our convictions ought to be high indeed, but our compassion must always run deeper than our convictions run high. This doesn't mean that personal and corporate convictions and standards are not important, for they clearly are, but it does mean that if we don't constantly work at deepening and displaying our compassion then we run the risk of becoming just like the Pharisees. They were more concerned with avoiding defilement, to an irrational extreme, than they were in ministering to people in need, and Jesus Christ, as He would with so many other things in His day, turned that on its head.
          Jesus was for the Law. He was more against the breaking of it than anybody could possibly understand. But when that leper knelt before Him Jesus reached out in compassion to touch him, and to cleanse him. Beloved, let us be known, not just for what we are against, but also, and more, for what compassion we display and extend to the lonely, hurting, unclean sinners all around us.

If you would like to listen to the audio version of this blog you may find it here on our church website. Just press 'launch media player' and choose We Preach Christ 21, 'Be Thou Clean'.

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