Sermon: It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
Scripture: Mark 1: 40-45
Date: January 17, 2017
Fifty four years ago when the film that I so blatantly stole my sermon title from came out, the word “mad” had a very different connotation than it does today. The writer meant it as a shortened form of the word madcap which meant crazy, funny, even nonsensical. That movie was a comedy that was described as the “madcap” pursuit of $350,000 in stolen cash by a diverse and colorful group of strangers.” In that context the word “mad” had nothing to do with the anger that is so prevalent in our world today. Today, describing the world as “mad” would not bring up comedic images, but rather conjure up thoughts of terrorism, and violence, and discrimination. Today we live in a mad world, but there isn’t anything funny about it. I was thinking about this as I was listening to the news leading up to the inauguration this week. All the people protesting, and boycotting, and marching. And so many angry, hateful posts on Facebook and twitter and other forms of social media. People saying such hateful things about people and to people. From all sides. I don’t know if social media has contributed to our anger, or if it has just provided a convenient forum to express the anger that was already there. It’s much easier to say terrible things to and about people and hide behind the relative anonymity of Social Media. Such anger usually finds its expression in inappropriate times and in most inappropriate ways. When I counsel a couple who are preparing to get married, I always counsel them to not let anger build in their marriage, to deal with it right away, because anger repressed will find a way to surface in destructive ways. And we don’t have to watch the news or spend time on Facebook to know that we live in a mad, mad, mad world. We experience it every day. I have been driving a car for more than forty years, and I don’t think in all of those years I have been honked at more than I have in the last few months. Our mad world seems to have found a place for expression behind the wheel of a car. It usually happens when I am sitting first in line at an intersection and the light turns green. Now I have driven in Lexington for many years and know that for many Lexingtonians a red light doesn’t mean stop. It means put the pedal to the floor and race through the intersection. So I always wait a few seconds before starting across to allow for the red light runners. Well, that sometimes angers the would be red light runner who is behind me at the intersection and finds it’s expression in laying on the horn. I have even been honked at when I have begun to slow down at a yellow light and come to a complete stop as the light turns red. I read an article not too long ago about the increasing incidents of rage on the road, and it said that on average 35,000 to 40,000 people die in car accidents in the US every year, and that up to 2/3 of those can be attributed to some form of road rage. That’s a frightening statistic. We live in a mad world. And often times that anger turns into hatred. We see that in the world today. In the continuing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. In the actions of ISIS and other terrorists. In North Korea. Even in Lexington. And it has been so much a part of our presidential campaign and election and now inauguration. We can only pray that it doesn’t carry over into the terms of our newly elected President and Congress. But I’m not hopeful about that. I am angry that we live in such a mad, mad, mad, mad world.
So how does that tie into the Gospel reading for today. When I talked about Mark’s take on Christmas and Baptism a couple of weeks ago, I did not mean to get stuck in this first chapter of Mark. But as I studied the rest of this chapter in my own Bible study time, it has become clear to me that Mark intended this chapter to be kind of summary of what he was going to say about the whole ministry of Jesus. When I took a beginning preaching class in seminary, a few years ago, one of the first things my professor said was that in a good sermon you should start by telling the people what you’re going to tell them, then you should tell them what you want to tell them and then you should finish up by telling them what you just told them. Well, apparently Mark had the same professor because he starts his Gospel by telling us what he’s going to tell us. So many of the themes that Jesus will deal with time and again in His ministry are touched on in this opening chapter. There is Baptism and repentance. There is temptation and Satan. And there is the call to Discipleship. The power over evil. Restoring the soul. Healing the sick. And it’s about the relationship between righteousness, and anger, and compassion. We see it in Jesus’ response to this leper who comes to be healed, but who receives so much more from Jesus.
Now a little context is needed here to help us understand this story. Jesus has gone into the wilderness alone to pray, even though there are persons literally pounding down the door of the house where he was staying seeking to be healed. And the Disciples have come to him in the wilderness and said to him, “The people are clamoring for you to come back and heal them.” But Jesus resists His growing popularity as a healer because His mission is not primarily to heal persons, but rather He came to save them. And so Jesus has made the decision that rather than going back to Capernaum He will make his way to another town. And as he enters that town, a leper comes to Him, and says, “If you are willing , You can make me clean.” And Mark tells us that Jesus is moved with compassion .
Now the Revised Standard translation says Jesus was “moved with pity” rather than compassion but as I was reading this, I noticed that there was an asterisk by the 41st verse in my Bible, and I read the footnote, and it said that the earliest translations of Mark’s gospel read that “Jesus was angry when the leper approached him.” So I got curious about that and looked at some of the other translations of that passage that I have. The New English Bible for instance reads, “In warm indignation, Jesus, stretched out His hand.” And the Revised English Bible reads “Jesus was moved to anger.” And so I got to wondering that if the earliest translators were right – that Mark said that Jesus was angry – What might He be angry about?
And as I thought more about that, it occurred to me that there were at least three ways to understand the anger of Jesus, especially in the context of our mad, mad, mad world because those possibilities
might mirror the anger that we often feel when confronted by life in this world.
So, first, I thought perhaps Jesus was angry because the leper was not sure that Jesus would even want to heal him. “If you want to, you can heal me”, he says to Jesus. It seems to me that implied in that statement is the possibility that Jesus didn’t care enough about this man to heal him, even though he no doubt knew that Jesus had healed others. This was not a matter of questioning Jesus’ authority, as much as it was questioning His desire. And as I thought about that I realized that there are a lot of people who are angry with Christianity and the church for much the same reason. There are a lot of people in our community, in our world, who think that the church of Jesus Christ, lacks the desire to be an agent of healing in today’s world. That the church doesn’t care enough about them, to want to touch them. To heal them. There are those, inside and outside the church, who question our willingness to be in ministry to the poor, or the children, or the sick, or the older adults, or the young adults, or those who live different lifestyles, and the list goes on and on. The leper thought he was too much of an outcast to be ministered to by Jesus. He wasn’t sure that Jesus cared about Him. Have you ever felt that way? There are a lot of things that can come our way in this life that can make us question if Jesus cares. If anyone cares. Well that’s where this man was. But Jesus says (and this is my paraphrase) “I love you. Of course, I am willing,” And that must be the response of the church to the immensity of the suffering that surrounds us. So just as I am angered by the perception that the church doesn’t care, I wonder if that’s what angered Jesus about this encounter. And, you know, I think there were other times when Jesus was “angered” by this same kind of questioning. When the Disciples try to keep the children away. (“You don’t have time to deal with Children, Jesus.” Or when they try to rush him past the blind beggar sitting at the gates of the city. Or perhaps when he sees a lady bent over with the pains of life standing in the shadows of the Temple, invisible, everybody simply passing her by. “Of course, I am willing” is always Jesus’ response. Because He loves each one of us.
Or perhaps Jesus is angered by the situation that this leper has been placed in by the world. Because to the world he is an outcast. Unclean. Nobody will even come near him. Touch him. We have a lot of “untouchables” in our world. If you google the word “untouchables”, on the internet, you’ll find groups of people in nearly every culture and every major religion in the world who are labeled as untouchable. Perhaps you feel like an untouchable. In Jesus day, and in our day, there are so many like this leper. On the fringes of society. And you don’t have a disease like leprosy to make you feel like an outcast. To feel marginalized. Pushed aside. Unworthy of God’s attention. There are many in our community who feel that way. Maybe it’s lifestyle choices that lead us into the shadows, or the prejudices of our society that have made people outcasts. And the church should be angry in the face of such suffering. Perhaps it is a righteous anger that Jesus feels. When we see starving children or consider the plight of homeless families, we should be angry. When we see people being discriminated against for whatever the reason, we should be angry. When we consider that there are so many suffering and dying from diseases all around the world, when there are medicines available to treat and cure them, it should make us angry. There is much that should make us mad at this world. But the awful truth that Jesus knew then and knows now is that the church too often looks the other way, brands them as unclean, and sees them as a threat to the purity of the faith. And that not only makes Jesus angry, but it breaks His heart. Remember the time that Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath, and the priests challenged Him because He had violated the law by healing on the Sabbath. They had no concern for the man. Only the Law. And Jesus’ responded in anger that the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. So perhaps what Jesus was feeling when this man approached Him was righteous anger that was directed more at the church, rather than this leper.
Or perhaps there was another reason for Jesus’ anger. Remember when the disciples come to him while he is praying in the wilderness and they describe to Him all of the needy people who have come, He responds that He must be about His true purpose, which was to proclaim salvation from our sin, and the Kingdom of God. His heart was broken by the need of this leper and so many others who were like him, but his mission, his purpose drove Him on. It is so clear in the Gospels that Jesus could never turn away individuals who were in need of a physical touch, but Mark also makes it clear that He feared that His growing reputation as a healer would get in the way of His mission to all the world. He was concerned that physical well being not be equated with salvation, or in the case of this leper that illness and infirmity not be misunderstood as some kind of condemnation from God. And so time and again in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is confronted with this conflict and though He always chooses to touch and heal, look what He says to this leper “see that you say nothing to anyone, but go your way.” And this is not an isolated incident in Mark’s Gospel. In fact, some scholars refer to Mark as the Gospel of the Hidden Jesus. Perhaps Jesus was angry that the perception of the people that He was a great healer seemed to be overshadowing His message of grace and redemption and salvation. And again, I think this is a constant struggle in the church today. We become involved with many of the social issues of our day. We do what we can to help alleviate the suffering in our community and our world. And we should. But we must not forget that Jesus did not mean for the church to just be another social service agency. We must not let the good that we do overshadow the fact that the purpose of the church is to point persons to Jesus, to make Disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world. Jesus’ primary concern for this leper is not the physical healing, it is Spiritual healing. Not the condition of his body as much as the condition of his soul. “Go to the priest” Jesus tells the Leper, so that you can be restored in the eyes of the church, so that you can worship God again, be cleansed in your soul.
And so I suspect that even if the early translators were right, and it is anger that Mark saw in Jesus, this story is not truly about anger. It is about what Jesus does with His anger. Mark tells of other times when Jesus is angry, but the emphasis is always on how Jesus responds to that anger. He reaches out to this leper and heals him. He gathers the children to Him. He restores the sight of the blind beggar. He heals the man on the Sabbath and sees and touches the invisible woman in the Temple. But with each he begins with forgiveness. One writer, in commenting on Jesus’ anger writes: “if I only feel anger and don’t let that push me toward compassion that tries to do something to alleviate that suffering, then it is wasted anger.”
Now I don’t know about you but my life is too often filled with wasted anger because it is not the anger we feel that makes it right or wrong, it is our response to that anger.
When we let the anger build within us until it comes out as rage, or it poisons our relationships, or hardens our heart for those in need, it becomes anger that grieves the heart of God, and separates us from Him and those we love. And it keeps us from sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, from making Disciples. Righteous anger spurs us to emulate Christ and reach out in compassion, even to those who may be the source of our anger.
Perhaps you know the story of Candy Lightner. Several years ago her twelve year old daughter was killed in a car wreck which was caused by a drunk driver. In the days following that terrible tragedy, she was, of course, consumed by grief, but she was also very angry at the man who had taken her daughter’s life. She wanted to strike out at him, to make him pay. But instead she let her anger move her toward compassion . And she began a group to reach out to other mothers who had suffered the kind of terrible loss she had. Today that group, Mothers Against Drunk Driving is a source of strength and compassion for those in the midst of tragedy and a powerful advocate of tougher laws to try and prevent other tragedies from happening. She turned her anger into positive, life changing solutions to a very bad situation. So what should be our response to this mad, mad, mad, mad world? First of all, to know that it’s okay to get angry. All of us do from time to time. Jesus did.
But we cannot let that anger control us. If we do, it will poison our relationships, and separate us from God. And divide us from one another. It will make US the marginalized, the invisible ones, the outcasts. Our anger with and among our leaders and politicians is ripping at the fabric of our nation and threatening to tear us apart. And maybe that’s where you are now. How you are feeling. The anger within you is tearing you up inside. One pastor says:
We should own up to our anger, but we ought not let it become our
controlling emotion. Instead we can do something right with the energy anger generates. Before this day ends, we can take a positive step. Let our anger be the fire that melts the ice of indifference and uncaring, but don’t let our anger be a doorway for Satan. Let compassion, not anger, win.
But we cannot do that alone. We need the help that only comes from the one who was able to turn His anger into compassion. So that when He acted it was out of love and not driven by anger. What a world this would be if we all would emulate Jesus and work to turn our anger into compassion. So that instead of striking out at one another in anger, we would reach out to touch one another and bring healing to body and soul. He is willing to bring that work about in you. But the question is: are you ready to let Him?