I may have mentioned that I am going to New Testament Greek classes, trying to make good my poor performance in Greek as a theological student. When I arrived yesterday, my fellow-students were asking our tutor if he always started with the Greek text when he was preaching. He said he did and was reading from Romans, in Greek, the text on which he was going to preach on Sunday.
I don’t. But occasionally I do consult a Greek text just to check something. So, today, in the story of the leper who comes to Jesus (Mark 1:40-45), we read:
“Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand…”
And I thought, ‘I know this one!’ The words “Moved with pity” translate a single Greek word:
From the Greek σπλαγχνον, which means intestines or bowels. We say, his heart was moved. In Jesus’s day, it was your gut that felt strong emotion. We talk about a ‘gut-feeling’ or something being ‘visceral’, which is to do with the internal organs. When you feel something so strongly it churns your insides.
Philippians 1:8 King James Version:
For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ.
Good News Translation:
God is my witness that I tell the truth when I say that my deep feeling for you all comes from the heart of Christ Jesus himself.
Jesus is deeply moved by this man’s plight. His heart goes out to him. He’s a ‘leper’, which means he has some sort of skin condition (not necessarily Hansen’s disease) which marks him out as an outsider. Leviticus (13) says that those with skin conditions are unclean. They must live outside the camp and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean!’ Skin diseases were seen as a sign of God’s judgement.
Illness can often lead to people being stigmatised. People with skin conditions may fee embarrassed. Other illnesses and diseases can be ranked according to how much we blame people. A current campaign in our own day, which I heartily endorse, is to end the stigma around mental illness. We are a bit better at talking about depression, bipolar illness and dementia. Churches should be places where people don’t need to pretend. But mental illness is still sometimes associated with moral or spiritual weakness…
Jesus’s heart goes out the man. Our hearts must go out to those who are ill, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually… Jesus brings healing to the man. And so must we.