Print Version February 12th, 2006
We’ve been talking about discernment today, about the way experience moves us and about the risk in that, the risk and the joy and the freedom and the cost. It’s all on show in the gospel too, in Jesus.
It’s all too easy to imagine a Jesus who is a little above it all, who knows a little too much to get upset by life, a Jesus who wears his compassion like pity. Shakespeare has a description of the ideal holy person: “Unmoved, cold and to temptation slow,” he says, “they rightly do inherit heaven’s graces and husband nature’s riches from expense. They are the Lords and owners of their faces.” … I used to think Shakespeare was serious, that he’d hit the nail on the head, and here was the way to be. I was wrong.
Jesus proved me wrong.
When the leper seeks him out, begging to be cured, Jesus, it says, felt sorry for him. Literally the text says something close to his heart churned. The sight of this outcast upsets him enough to give him palpitations. And what he does next—in complete contradiction to his upbringing and religion and common sense—is extraordinary: Jesus touches him. The leper says, “If you want to you can cure me”. And Jesus sounds almost amazed at his own reply, “Of course I want to”. “Of course I want to: Be cured!”
There are two knacks in discernment: letting yourself be moved by life and knowing which movements to act out of and which to ignore. There’s no sign of Jesus pausing to work it out here but I think that comes from practice rather than from always knowing what to do. He’s had so much practice at discernment that sometimes he just knows by taste. There are other places in the gospel where we see him wrestling with discernment but here he is touched and just reaches out to touch.
I said at the beginning that discernment has a risk and a cost. There’s an enormous risk here for Jesus in breaking the law and touching the untouchable—and its not about catching anything—it’s about crossing the line. And he gets to pay the price for it too. The outcast leper gets restored to health and is able to return to town, to home and hearth and ordinary life. Jesus finds it impossible from this point on to do just that—he has to stay outside in places where nobody lived. But still world came to him.
And that the risk of discernment—we never know where it will take us.