6th Sunday after the Epiphany
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Mark 1:40-45 Sermon 
February 12, 2006

Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
160 "Praise My Soul The King Of Heaven"
393 "Jesus Lover Of My Soul"
370 "Just As I Am Without One Plea"
557 "Fight The Good Fight With All Thy Might"


TEXT (vs. 40-42): “A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean.’ Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.”

If you’ve watched any television later at night, you maybe have seen the commercial for the Christian Children’s Fund. In their most recent commercial, Hollywood actor Pernell Roberts is standing in a third world village, presumably somewhere in Africa. You might remember Pernell Roberts playing the oldest Cartwright son, Adam, in Bonanza. He also played Trapper John, M. D. in the T.V. series. Anyway, the Christian Children’s Fund commercial depicts the poor and needy of the world, specifically children.

The commercial brings to light the plight of starving and undernourished children. There are children in the world who do not know where their next meal is coming from, nor do they know when it will be.

Mr. Roberts then explains that by donating only 80 cents a day to the Christian Children’s Fund, that you too can sponsor a starving child and thereby do your part to help alleviate the hunger problem. Mr. Roberts then says, “It’s the best thing that can happen to three quarters and a nickel.”

Now first of all, I will go on record by saying that I have absolutely no problem with people donating to world relief efforts. I believe that we should know what’s going on and where help is needed. We certainly need to be sensitive about these issues.

I don’t believe that the Christian Children’s Fund is a bad organization either. They accomplish a purpose. Even though about 20 cents out of every dollar donated to the CCF is spent on “administrative costs,” yet they are doing something, and making a difference.

All things considered, there is something going on here that you might not realize right away, but it is something rather important. That “something” is a little thing called “marketing.” The Christian Children’s Fund makes excellent use of some very strategic marketing ploys. That’s a big part of that 20 percent used for “administrative expenses.”

First of all, they hire famous Hollywood figures. Right now, that figure is actor Pernell Roberts. Not too long ago, CCF used actress Sally Struthers. Using people that are famous as their spokesmen give the group a lot of credibility. After all, if someone famous is endorsing this group, then it must be okay. What they don’t tell you, is that these people are well compensated for their appearance. To the occasional or passive viewer of the commercial, one might think that these people are volunteering their time. But such is not the case.

The television air time for these commercials is not donated by the stations or the networks. These aren’t the same as public service announcements. It is all purchased commercial air time.

The timing of these commercials is as important as anything. They have them on very late at night. They do this because they are targeting a specific audience.

Okay, so who’s up late watching television? It might be the new mother, who’s up giving her baby a 2 am feeding. She’s holding this very new life at her breast, and this commercial comes on showing starving and needy children. She thinks of her own child, and is moved with compassion.

Or it might be the insomniac who can’t sleep, so they turn on the T.V. with the hope of being lulled to sleep. But here comes this commercial; and now the person can’t sleep with this image of starving children going through their mind. So they pick up the phone and make a pledge.

And let’s not forget the person who is watching late night T.V. under the influence of alcohol. A person who is drunk can get rather emotional, and have their guard down. This commercial comes on, and so they call the toll free number while tears are falling in their beer.

This is marketing. Hollywood gives the organization credibility. And then they target the most receptive audience. It is almost cold and definitely calculated. It’s all designed to stir up the emotions of people so they will respond. And respond they do, to the tune of millions of dollars.

In our text for today, we find Jesus taking pity on a man who approaches him with leprosy. He gets down on his knees and makes an appeal to Jesus to be cured. He undoubtedly has heard about the healing miracles Jesus has been performing. He might have even spoken to some who have been cured. And so, with a faith that believed without a doubt that Jesus could cure him of his disease, he says to Jesus: “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Jesus’ response here is the most interesting thing. The Bible says that he was “filled with compassion.” This is actually a translation of one Greek word, which is “splagchnistheis.” This word comes from the word meaning “intestines” or “bowels.” So if we wanted to be literal about it, we could say that when this man with leprosy approached Jesus, that Jesus’ bowels began to churn.

This of course has a far different connotation than what we would think of when our bowels churn. What is depicted here is a sense of being overcome with pity and compassion. We often talk about something which is rather emotional as being a “gut wrenching” thing.

I like to think about it in this way. Have you ever dug potatoes out of the ground? You don’t do it with a shovel or a spade, but with a potato fork. You stick the fork in the ground a little distance from the plant. You loosen the ground a bit, and then lift up under the plant. When the plant is lifted, you find the potatoes growing on the roots. Since the earth has been loosened, it is an easy matter to pick the potatoes. Then the plant is replaced, and it continues to make more potatoes. This digging and disturbing the earth brings positive results.

This is the type of feeling that is put forth in the Greek word, “splagchnistheis.” The feeling of compassion is so strong, it’s like someone has stuck a potato fork in you and has churned things up. A situation has occurred that has moved you into action. This was the reaction that this leper in our text for today had upon Jesus.

Leprosy was sort of the generic term used for a variety of skin ailments. It was usually painful, hideous, very contagious, and almost always incurable.

If we look at this leper, one thing stands out. His approach to Jesus was different than the accepted way a leper was supposed to act. Lepers were supposed to approach people shouting “Unclean, unclean!” This would warn them to get out of the way, lest they catch whatever kind of disease the leper had. And should they ever experience healing, they were to go and show themselves to the priests to determine whether or not they were actually healed.

But this man did not shout the customary “Unclean, unclean!” as he approached Jesus. He did not want anyone to interfere with his coming to Jesus, who was the one he recognized as the only one who could cure him.

When he falls on his knees before Jesus, he gives a great demonstration of the faith he had. He knew that Jesus didn’t have to heal him, rather he appeals to Christ’s mercy with the hope that out of his compassion, his “splagchnistheis,” he would indeed heal him.

Jesus basically ignores the Old Testament ceremonial law of clean and unclean. Jesus did not point his finger at the man and shout out “Unclean!” like the Jews would have done. Rather, he is filled with this very strong love and compassion—stronger than any form of ritual or regulation. So without any regard to whether or not this act would make Jesus himself ceremonially unclean, he touches the leper, and he is healed.

I believe it is important for us to recognize the level of compassion that Jesus has for people. One of the attributes of Jesus’ human nature was the feeling of human emotion and his empathy for human suffering. The shortest verse of the whole Bible, which is John 11, 35, demonstrates this emotion: “Jesus wept.” At the death of his friend Lazarus, Jesus expressed grief.

Then in Hebrews 4, 15-16 we find some words of special comfort: “For we do not have a high priest [meaning Jesus] who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

As we consider the leper in our story today, we can see an obvious parallel with ourselves. Sin in our lives is like the infection of leprosy. We need to be healed. We need to experience that same healing touch today like that leper who approached Jesus so long ago.

So what can we expect when we approach Jesus? Can we expect to be treated like the Jews treated the lepers of Jesus’ day, and have him point at us and shout “Unclean, unclean!” and have nothing to do with us?

That’s hardly the case. We can expect Jesus to come to us full of love and compassion. We can expect Jesus to understand our condition. We can come to him and fully expect him to heal us.

This is what we find in the message of the gospel. We are unclean and undeserving. We are the poor and the wretched and the blind. We have nothing good that lives within our sinful selves.

But Christ reaches out to us. He offers us healing and forgiveness. Jesus knows our condition and what we are going through. He knows our temptations and our weaknesses. We can take great comfort in the words given to us by the writer to the Hebrews, so we can: “…approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

We can come to Jesus and expect him to respond in love and compassion. The leper in our story today came to Jesus just as he was, and Jesus was moved with compassion. The leper approached Jesus in faith, with the knowledge that he would be healed and restored.

The Greek word again is “splagchnistheis,” that gut wrenching type of compassion that Jesus experienced when the leper came to him. That’s the same type of compassion that Jesus feels when we come to him for healing.

The Christian Children’s Fund spends a lot of money trying to foster that emotion among us. The marketing techniques used by them is intended to fill us with this “splagchnistheis” type of feeling, so that we will respond by sending them dollars.

Christian charity is indeed a great thing, and we should be moved to help others. Every major church body has some sort of a world relief fund to help in this effort, and we should be moved to help where we can.

However as we look at our text for today, we are directed to see Jesus and the compassion he has for us. We love others because he has first loved us. We respond out of thankful hearts, and not because of any Hollywood hype or guilt trip.

Therefore, as we come to him, let us pray that we continually see his healing touch in our lives. Let us be thankful for his blessings. And let us be continually motivated to have a Christ-centered compassion, a “splagchnistheis” for all people.