“And a leper came to him [Jesus], imploring him, and kneeling said to him, ‘If you will, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean.’” (Mark 1:40–41 ESV)
While moving this week, I’ve been listening to an audiobook, Ministries of Mercy, by Tim Keller. What a great book! While the statistics are a little dated now, the content is just as relevant today as it was when Keller wrote it in the 1990’s. In the book, Keller goes through the parable of the Good Samaritan and challenges each individual Christian and every truly Christ-centered church to pursue a ministry extending mercy and meeting the needs of the poor.
Perhaps the freshness of Keller’s book in my mind is why this verse from Mark 1 stood out to me. Jesus, moved by pity, touched a leper. This would’ve been shocking to the Jews in that day. No faithful Israelite would even go near an unclean leper, let alone actually touch one. Now we know that Jesus didn’t have to touch to heal. He could but speak a word and the disease would be cured. And even in this particular instance, it wasn’t Jesus’ touch that healed the leprosy, but His command, “Be clean.” So why did Jesus touch the man?
Jesus was moved by pity, filled with compassion and love. He touched the man as a ministry of mercy. Jesus’ ministry consisted of preaching (word) and healing (deed). Both were motivated by love. Since both were defining characteristics of Jesus’ ministry, so both are imperative to us, the church. We must love in word and deed, by proclaiming the Gospel and by caring for the poor. Neither is more important than the other, and neither may be neglected by us individually or by us as a church.
But this goes far beyond simply making a fruit basket for the poor at Christmas or giving to a charitable organization after a natural disaster. Jesus got personal with this leper. He reached into his world and touched him. So, too, must we be personally involved in ministries of mercy. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty! Touch the untouchable, love the unlovable, have compassion on the outcast. For this is what Christ has done for you. Once you were spiritually outcast, unlovable, clothed in filthy rags, the sickening smell of your sin a stench in the nostrils of God. But Jesus came for you, reaches out to you, invites you in, takes your filthy rags and gives you a wedding garment.
• How is the Holy Spirit leading you to become more personally involved in a ministry of mercy to the poor?
• What holds you back from ministries of mercy?
• What pocket of poverty can your small group engage in ministry?