Monday, September 9, 2013

Jesus and the Zombie Apocalypse (Mark 1:40-45)

In this story, Mark continues to demonstrate Jesus’ authority by taking things to the next level. It is a little difficult for us today to see the distinction between this healing and the healings of the previous story. These are all simply accounts of illnesses being healed. But in Jesus’ day, leprosy was much more than just a sickness. Healings and miracles were occasionally performed by people back then, but there were two things that were seen as things only God could do: raise the dead and cure leprosy. Leprosy was a manifestation of a spiritual condition. A leper was ritually unclean. On the scale of clean to unclean, they were on par with corpses. They truly were considered the “walking dead.”

Zombies are actually a good contextualization of this idea for us today. Ever since Romero reinvented the voodoo concept into the cinematic metaphor exposing and satirizing societal problems that it is today, zombies fill the same symbolic role that Lepers did in Bible times. OK, they didn’t go around eating brains and overtaking all of the culture, but they did invoke fear and were a tangible representation of what sin did to society. They were outcast and shunned for fear that their uncleanliness would spread and destroy civilization. In fact, the leper colonies of years past are looked at as a case study of how things will be by people who really think a zombie epidemic is inevitable.

Hollywood has done a lot to make us think that evil and sin are just make-believe. Whereas leprosy was a real problem that truly did expose our sin problem in a tangible way, zombies are so over the top that our real problems are small and almost manageable by comparison. Similarly, the Hollywood representation of demonic possession like the one Jesus dealt with earlier in Mark have made such a cartoon of evil that we overlook real evil in our neighborhoods. If your head isn’t spinning or you aren’t committing genocide or child molestation you may not be a good person exactly, but you aren’t evil. Likewise, in spite of the fact that we all live lives of such routine and thoughtless repetition, we aren’t horrific monsters; so we overlook the fact that most of us are spiritually dead.

The leper in this story is all too aware of his problem. He is dead. He also understands another more wonderful truth. Jesus has the ability to change his circumstances. He trusts Jesus’ abilities. However, he also knows the deeper root of his own problem. He is a sinner. His condition is not just a cosmic coincidence or an unlucky infection. For all he knows, Jesus may not want to help him. He has done nothing to deserve mercy. But Jesus has compassion and TOUCHES the leper, healing him. (Another reading of this text says Jesus was angered. A wholly appropriate response to the effects of sin!) Jesus didn’t just heal the leper with a word, which He certainly could have done. He touched the monster! The leper is made clean and Jesus—the rabbi, the holy man—is unaffected by the man’s uncleanliness.

Jesus tells the man to remain silent about the encounter, and to simply go and fulfill the religious requirements needed to reintegrate into society. Of course the man spreads the story all over the place. Wouldn’t you? Actually we don’t, do we? Why is it that we are asked to spread our story and we are afraid to, while this man couldn’t keep his story in? It is probably due to the fact that we don’t really understand what we have experienced. Or, perhaps we have not really experienced anything at all. We have made a religious decision. This man trusted Christ and was saved from his sins. When you truly realize what Christ has done, you can’t keep a lid on it.

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