Gospel Reading: Mark 1:40-45
A leper came to Jesus begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!”
Welcome—especially to our visitors and guests as we gather to celebrate the baptism of Izayah Angel Martinez. He has already played the baby Jesus in our Christmas pageant this year, so I think he is off to a good start in the Lord!
In our Gospel story today the “grown up Jesus” is heading to the neighboring towns to proclaim the good news in the synagogues. A leper kneels before him, begging for healing. The leper says, “if you choose, you can make me clean.” Now leprosy was viewed as a physical and spiritual sickness; it not only meant you were physically ill but that you were a religious outcast as well. Jesus, “moved with pity” says I do choose. He stretches out his hand and touches the leper. Jesus chooses to make himself unclean, in order to make this man clean. And he chooses, because he is moved; he is moved with pity for the man kneeling before him.
Another translation instead of “moved with pity” is “to be moved by compassion.” My Greek is so bad I actually had to look the phrase up in a Greek/English Bible (so now you know my secret), and the first literal translation given for the Greek was “being compassionated.” It’s a passive verb. I love that idea, not just showing compassion but of “being compassionated,” because it sounds even more like something is actively overtaking you. So God is willing—willing to let compassion overtake him, to “be compassionated,” to be moved by pity.
The whole idea of “being moved” is that it’s not a choice; we are taken over, all of a sudden. We are driven. We are compelled by the force of love that connects us to the other person. But in this Gospel there is still an interesting double play on words. “If you choose to heal me” the leper says. Or another translation is “if you wish or will” to heal me. “Yes I do choose,” Jesus says. “Yes, I will it.” But as he wills—as he chooses (active)—he is overtaken by compassion at the same time (passive). He actively chooses to be moved.
God chooses, in other words, to be affected, to open his heart to us. God chooses to let us overtake him, to let our pain, to let our crying out, to let our begging and kneeling before him have an effect on him. He chooses to let our physical and spiritual sicknesses overwhelm him with pity and compassion. He chooses to make our very need for him compel him to stretch out his hand and touch us. God chooses, in other words, to be in a relationship with us.
Christians talk a lot about being in a relationship with God. We just sang in our processional hymn about “God’s countless gifts of love from our mother’s wombs.” We talk about God’s love for us, but it is hard to truly fathom what a big deal this is theologically and personally for God to be “compassionated” by us.
It’s not simply a sentimental Hallmark card moment. Think of all the words used to describe God: eternal, immutable, unchanging, all-knowing, all-powerful. He is the only actor in the drama of creation; everything comes through him and all things return to him. He is the one in control.
When early Greek Christians wanted to describe God through Greek philosophy they actually called Him the “unmoved mover.” He’s not moved; he only moves others. Imagine that magnetic game people used to have on their desks, with metal balls lined up on the end of wires and if you hit the first one in, the last one goes. Well, that first one that you throw in there to make everything happen—that’s God. No one moves God. But God moves everything. He is completely self-sufficient, the one who wants or needs nothing, who is completely self contained. And yet, in this story, it is not just God the mover, moving us around like chess pieces. It is not just God the eternal king, choosing to mete-out unemotional justice, or God as some impersonal force of power in the world. It is God suddenly captured by compassion, a God overwhelmed with pity. It is God stretching out his hand for us—because we have affected him. It is God touching us because we have touched the heart of God.
The unmoved mover—is moved.
It makes no sense theologically or philosophically; it is absolutely fabulous. We touch the heart of God.
And that means today as we baptize baby Izayah; this tiny little baby has already “compassionated” the eternal and unchangeable God. Izayah touches the heart of God’s love, compassion, care today. He moves the almighty God to say, “I want you, Izayah, to be mine.” He moves the unchangeable God to say, “I want you, Izayah, to be a part of my life, my salvation—I want you to be sealed as my own in Christ Jesus.” And when the changes and chances of life overwhelm Izayah, God will be moved with compassion. When Izayah hurts, God will hurt for him. And When Izayah reaches for God, God will stretch out his hand and reach out for him in return. Because little Izayah has moved the almighty immovable God.
That’s a pretty big achievement for the little guy.
And this is not just for Izayah. At every baptism we as a community celebrate the relationship we all have with God through baptism. We celebrate that we are all sealed, that God wants us as his own, that God chooses to open his heart to us. And when we find our own lives, burdened with physical and spiritual sickness, we turn to God and find the God of all creation stretching out his hand to us. Overtaken with love for us, “compassionated” because of the effect we have on the almighty God.
But that is only the beginning of the story. There is still this play of choice in our Gospel today. The leper is healed but then he chooses. He chooses NOT to do what Jesus wants him to. So while Jesus makes a choice to be overcome with compassion and heal the leper, the leper in return also has a choice. He can use his own freewill to be moved by God to obedience, or he can choose to do whatever he wants.
Baptism is only the beginning. Izayah can move the heart of the almighty God, but it is now our responsibility to teach Izayah how to bring his own will in line with God’s will. So that, just as God chooses to be moved by him, he will choose to be moved by God in return.
And this goes for all of us as well; what will we choose? Now as we get ready to baptize Izayah, and as we say these familiar words of that baptismal rite, consider what you are choosing here today. Do you choose, as God does, to open your own heart to “be compassionated?” Do you choose the living God?
From the beginning of creation, God says to us constantly, “I do choose—I choose you. I stretch out my hand to you. I touch you. I allow you to affect me—to move my heart for compassion and pity for you.” But now you must choose. What will you do in return? God has opened his heart; what will your response be?
As we say these words together imagine how—if we can move the heart of the almighty God—do we then move our own hearts in line with his will?
Today, be moved by God, as God is moved by you.