Once, when he was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” Then Jesus[b] stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do choose. Be made clean.” Immediately the leprosy[c] left him. And he ordered him to tell no one. “Go,” he said, “and show yourself to the priest, and, as Moses commanded, make an offering for your cleansing, for a testimony to them.” But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.
Reflection from Harolyn Thogersen:
After I looked at this passage a couple of times, I told a friend the words that resonated most with me were the last ones, “He would withdraw to deserted places and pray.”
Then I sat here to write my impressions, and was carried away imagining how Jesus might have felt as he ministered to the people – the press of the crowds, myriad voices calling out “Look! There he is!” “Teacher!” “Rabbi!” “Lord …” “Help me!” Jesus was in the midst of all this noise and tumult – maybe this is a metaphor for his having been just like us? On and on my impressions flowed; I envisioned suffering man bowing low. He was ‘covered with leprosy’ so I saw everyone around him instantly shrinking away, and Jesus, by contrast, instantly leaning in, reaching out his hand in compassion and love, healing the man. God at work, I thought, bringing Jesus and the suffering man to this place at this time, using the crowd’s behavior to reveal him. I thought the leper’s faith was deep; he had no doubt Jesus was Lord, that he could heal him, if he chose. He didn’t beg; spoke from faith, and with hope, and Jesus responded.
I tried to imagine the impact of a day spent in ministry like this – the hours on foot, the pauses to teach, to respond to questioners, to cast out demons here, heal a person there. I tire from just teaching an hour’s Sunday school class! How weary Jesus must have been, then, after day-long immersion, summoning strength and responses from the Spirit within, feeling healing power flow from his hand to those he touched. I imagine Jesus’ quiet places – a garden, maybe, or grotto; maybe someplace outside the town, under the stars. I can imagine him seeking such a place, praying from the heart to his Father. Here at FUMC we have such a quiet place – our Prayer Room. I feel God’s presence there, and talk with him freely.
I pray by myself in other places, too: in my own back yard, while washing the dishes, while I walk and drive alone. Oh – and at bedtime, just before I fall asleep; this is such a good time for me to listen for God and feel his presence.. So it is a beautiful vision, Jesus praying to his Father in seclusion. There is such serenity in imagining Jesus surrendering himself to God’s will, being nurtured, refreshed, empowered to continue God’s work. I feel the same assurance in quiet times with God; even thinking of them, I feel a pull back to being with God.
Heavenly Father, may we seek you as Jesus did, regularly, that we find in solitary communion with you the same sustenance you gave your Son. Allow us to rest in your presence, and teach us to listen for your voice, and to wait, patiently, for your replies. Open our eyes to the suffering of those around us, and nurture in us the kind of love and compassion Jesus showed, so we may respond as he did. Strengthen us and guide us where you would have us go; help us discern what you would have us do, and how best we may serve you. Remind us, when we fear we will fall short, that you will partner us as we serve our families, communities, and in the world. This we pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.