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Praying about Jesus’s miracles: Jesus touches and heals a man with leprosy

Lynne Baab • Wednesday April 10 2024

Praying about Jesus’s miracles: Jesus touches and heals a man with leprosy

At age 20, I encountered for the first time the miracle of Jesus touching and healing a man with leprosy in Mark 1:40-45. Ever since then, I have marveled at the intimacy and radicality of Jesus’s touch. (Yes, I just learned that “radicality” is a word. I wanted to use “radicalness,” but I couldn’t find that word online. I think radicality will be my new favorite word. So much of Jesus’s ministry seems to me to be radical, using this definition: change or action relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something.)

Last week, while I was pondering how to write this blog post, I read an article with two lists of vivid adjectives. The first list is the negative: “Digital life is disembodied, asynchronous, shallow, and solitary.” In the second list, the opposites are given: “embodied, synchronous, deep, and collective.” Three of these dichotomies summarize why I love the way Jesus touches and heals the man.

Derek Thompson, a journalist who describes himself as an agnostic, wrote the article where I found those two lists. He writes about what we’re losing in American culture as church attendance declines. Despite his personal lack of interest in the Christian faith, he sees that churches have long provided a place for people to connect. Thompson writes that in the United States, we are in the midst of an unprecedented “decline in face-to-face socializing.”

I’ll reflect on Jesus’s beautiful miracle using Thompson’s dichotomies, not in the order he wrote them.

Disembodied/embodied. Back when I met this miracle at age 20, I was struck by the significance of Jesus’s willingness to touch the man. As you know, in Jesus’s time, people with leprosy were viewed as ritually unclean, and to touch an unclean person would make you unclean, too. People with leprosy had to live outside the villages. Jesus’s touch says, I care about you. But it also says, you are worth caring about, and I want you to reconnect to the community as an embodied, valuable creature of a loving God.

Touch is one of my languages of love. I enjoy giving and receiving hugs. I know I need to pray for wisdom about when and whether to extend a hug. I wrote about this challenge two weeks ago. In addition to the warmth of Jesus’s physical affection, his touch affirms that we are embodied beings. All too often, Christians have overemphasized the soul/spirit and underemphasized our physical beings. We are called to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30). This miracle invites me to pray that I would draw near to God in love and service with my whole being.

Solitary/collective. Jesus tells the man to go to the priest to show that he has been healed. The priest will then declare to the man and to the village that the man can re-enter the community. Jesus doesn’t simply rid the man of the leprosy. He is also concerned about the man’s re-engagement with his family and the people of his village. Jesus brings both physical and relational healing. This miracle invites me to pray for ways that I can nurture relational connection for others.

Shallow/deep. I see depth in Jesus’s interaction with the man through his touch and his instructions to show himself to the priest, which begin the process of reintegration into relationship. The depth of this interaction is also shown by the way Jesus upends the wisdom of the time. Being ritually unclean was viewed as contagious. With Jesus, the opposite is true. Jesus is holy, pure, and clean. He extends his wholeness to the man. This miracle invites us to pray that, to the extent that we experience wholeness through Christ, our wholeness would be contagious. We can also pray that we would not fear that others’ challenges, pain, or negativity would rub off on us.

Asynchronous/synchronous. This dichotomy refers to communication happening back and forth at the same time — or not. Based on my doctoral studies in communication, I believe that asynchronous communication becomes problematic only when it is coupled with the other negative characteristics in Thompson’s list, when communication is disembodied, shallow, and solitary. Yes, most human interactions for most of human history have been synchronous. Yes, Jesus healed the man in real time. But the Apostle Paul wrote letters that we read and savor centuries later.

Letters, emails, text messages, and social media are asynchronous communication, and they help keep me connected to friends around the world. In our time, a “place” of synchronous communication might be in a Zoom room or a phone call. You might say Zoom and phone calls are not embodied, but they do involve hearing the other person’s voice, a partial embodiment. I encourage you to ponder the pattern of your relationships in the light of this concept, synchronous versus asynchronous. We can pray for God’s wisdom for the wise use of both synchronous and asynchronous communication.

Lord of connection, give us wisdom where and how to connect deeply with people like Jesus did. We need your help and guidance to live as embodied creatures. We long to nurture wholeness in others, so please help us see the wholeness you have given us as contagious. Guide us into ways to enable others to connect to community. May your Holy Spirit in us make us more like you, who brings affection, warmth, care, and fullness of life into our hurting world.

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Next week: miracles involving sight. Illustration by Dave Baab.

Some previous posts that mention or discuss miracles:

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