By: Brian Harris
In Matthew 8:2 a man with leprosy approaches Jesus not with the anticipated “will you heal me?” but a statement, “If you are willing you can heal me”.
The man has no doubt about Jesus’ ability, just his willingness. It’s a little confronting. Perhaps he had heard of the man who had been an invalid for 38 years before Jesus healed him at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-16). He might not have enthused about the wonder of this miracle but asked about the others at that pool who weren’t healed – did Jesus not care about them? Did Jesus only have the power to heal the one, or was he only willing to heal the one? Did he conclude the second option was more likely, and wonder if anyone could care enough to make him whole? After all, the passage doesn’t even record his name. He was simply a category – a leprous man.
It’s an interesting question. What we do know is that the Gospels never record someone asking Jesus to heal them and Jesus turning them away. His disciples often built in obstacles and blocks, and actively discouraged direct requests being made to Jesus, and Jesus often asked penetrating questions after a request for healing was made, but he didn’t turn anyone away. Those who asked received.
Why the Doubt in Jesus’ Willingness?
So why the qualification, “If you are willing…” with the implied doubt that Jesus would be willing?
Perhaps it reflects this man’s wider life experience. As an unnamed victim of a dreaded disease, he would have remembered how dramatically his life changed the day his diagnosis was given. From that moment on he was an outcast. He was supposed to alert others when he approached, so that they could flee in time to avoid even distant contact and possible contamination. That the man had been able to get close enough to Jesus to make his statement was promising. Any one other than Jesus would have been screaming in protest, telling him to run away. And if he didn’t listen, they would have done the running. You couldn’t take any risks where leprosy was concerned.
“If you are willing” was, in its own way, a reminder to Jesus of his privilege and status. He was the power holder. The leprous man, powerless. And most power holders abuse their power. Very few use it on behalf of others. But since when has Jesus been with the majority? Jesus’ power is not for his ego or status. Not at all offended he does the unthinkable, reaches out his hand and touches the man. The accompanying words are liberating, “I am willing.” The man is healed.
This Miracle Comes With a Challenge
Perhaps a part of you is thinking, “while there was a lot of downside to being Jesus (like the Cross), there were some real benefits, like being able to perform miracles like this.” But I wonder if this is a miracle with a challenge. It’s the willingness challenge.
If you are willing. True, even if I was willing there are multiple miracles I can’t perform. The point is not those I can’t perform, but those I can, if, like Jesus, I am willing.
Like the miracle that my money, wisely placed at the disposal of the powerless, can achieve. Or the miracle that my spending time with someone others avoid, might perform. Or the miracle that using my voice on behalf of others could achieve – if only I would stop talking about myself and my fears and the tiny injustices I have had to endure.
We Are Not Powerless
It often starts with reframing. You and I are not powerless. The fact that we can read this with understanding demonstrates that – so many can’t. And if we are power holders in a world where many are powerless (and that includes people and endangered species and the planet), what possibilities are opened by our power. What if we used our power on behalf of others, on behalf of the powerless?
Jean-Paul Sartre famously argued that when we choose, we choose for others to. What we are willing to do (or not to do) impacts others. Even the decision not to choose is a choice with implications.
It’s not just Jesus who faces a confronting: “If you are willing you can…” It’s you and me. Jesus’ reply, given when he was already swinging into action, was, “I am willing.” Each day demonstrates the answer we are giving.
Article supplied with thanks to Brian Harris.
About the Author: Brian is a speaker, teacher, leader, writer, author and respected theologian who is founding director of the AVENIR Leadership Institute, fostering leaders who will make a positive impact on the world.