Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

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"Of People Pleasing, Expectations, and True Healing"

Mark 1: 40-45

Psalm 30

     How many of us sitting in the sanctuary this morning tend to be what are called “people pleasers”

In a nutshell, those who are people pleasers just want folks to be happy with them.  And how do they

do that?  Most people pleasers will bend themselves into pretzels in order to meet the desires, the

wishes, and the expectations of others.  While people pleasers generally avoid conflict by giving in to

others, they usually exhaust themselves in the process, leading to inner-conflict and self-doubt.

      The more familiar we become with the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, the more we realize that Jesus

was no people pleaser.  That’s not to say that Jesus didn’t care about other’s wishes, desires and

expectations.  He did.  He simply didn’t allow Himself to be controlled by them.  Jesus didn’t make the

agendas of others His own.   So it was that time and again, Jesus fell short of meeting people’s expectations.

  He was certainly not the Messiah the Jewish establishment was expecting, but was instead quickly identified

as a threat to their every vested interest.  He drew a large following – multitudes, the gospels tell us – where

the specific expectations of those masses were that Jesus would fill empty stomachs and heal broken bodies;

not much different than the Benny Hinn’s and other arena-filling “miracle workers” of our day.  Some were fed and healed.

  Others were not.  It’s almost shocking, especially in Mark’s Gospel, to see how little even His inner circle of disciples

understood the true nature of Jesus’ mission.  They, along with many others, fully expected that Jesus would overthrow

Rome’s occupying forces, and restore Israel’s long-lost glory.  He kept letting them down, for that was neither His agenda nor purpose.

      Perhaps, especially as a healer, Jesus was a disappointment to some.  Word of his healing power

spread like wildfire.  And there would be such throngs wanting a piece of Jesus’ power that His daily

coming and going was restricted.  Yet some found Him to be a reluctant healer, for He didn’t seek or

invite recognition; a healer who, unlike many of our present-day healing ministers, didn’t want His

name in lights.  Jesus preferred to heal quietly; even secretly.  Yet the fact of the matter was, Jesus

didn’t heal everyone.  He didn’t meet everyone’s expectations.  So while Jesus was a people lover,

again, He was not a people pleaser.

      Maybe we struggle with that.  Perhaps Jesus doesn’t necessarily meet our expectations either.  Like

the first-century multitudes, we want Jesus to give us relief; treat our symptoms; grant us what we

want.  But Jesus has always had a larger concern for we whom He loves than merely healing physical

infirmities, or responding to our petitions on our terms.  Jesus is Savior because He is God’s answer to

our needs, not our desires and wishes.  When we ask selfishly, ignorantly, arrogantly, superficially,

sinfully, we may perceive Him a reluctant healer.

     We read near the beginning of Mark’s Gospel that Jesus healed a leper.  As we’ve discussed before,

leprosy is a tragic disease.  In Jesus’ time, leprosy had social implications as devastating as its physical

consequences of body parts literally withering away and falling off.  Lepers were as outcast as any

group we could name today.  Jewish Law prohibited them from having contact with others, requiring

them to maintain a prescribed distance; even insisting that they cry out warnings about their uncleanliness

 so others could run.  “Unclean!  Unclean!” they would shout.  For the leper, there was zero quality of life. 

     For us Greek geeks, this passage from Mark is known for a particular translation problem.  You’ll find

that noted in your pew Bibles:  footnote O at the bottom right on page 35, New Testament.  Older

manuscripts translate the phrase in verse 41 as Jesus being “moved with anger,” whereas more

modern translations like the NRSV read “moved with pity.”  If we accept the reading of the older

manuscripts, we might ask: was Jesus angry at this man who approached Him with a request to be

 healed?  Surely not.  It seems more likely that if Jesus was angry, it was about the circumstances – both

physical and social – that had made this leper an outcast.  Few things upset Jesus as much as seeing a

person shunned and disenfranchised.  And is it not true that a deeply-caring and sensitive person can

easily become angered in the face of either innocent suffering or social discrimination, let alone both? 

Whether we accept the older translation “moved with anger,” or the newer “moved with pity,” Jesus

would never simply see a disease that needed healing, but a broken person in need of wholeness. 

      I think most of us recognize that healing and wholeness are not necessarily the same thing.  We

have all known someone with an incurable disease or some permanent “thorn in the flesh” who, in

spite of it, displayed qualities of spiritual health and wholeness.  We have also known impressive

specimens physically whose quality of personhood and inner life were sadly lacking.  To be sure,

Almighty God cares about falling sparrows, lilies of the field, and whatever distresses the least of God’s  

children.  In the incarnation however – in the manifestation of Jesus Christ – God acts primarily for our

eternal salvation, not for our temporary physical comfort.  God’s eternal longing, and Jesus’ greatest

mission, was and is to bestow on us the gift of spiritual health and wholeness; the blessing of a rich

inner-life and personhood of high quality.

      Given the limitations of Mark’s brief account, it’s impossible to say much more than that the leper

experienced the healing of his leprosy, which in itself was no small thing.  In rabbinical literature,

healing a leper was considered almost as profound as raising the dead.  Within the confines of this

narrative, the man neither sought nor hoped for anything else or anything more.  He just wanted his

leprosy gone.  There is no textual evidence that in this encounter with Jesus, the man was transformed

spiritually.  Yet the hope of our Christian imagination is that the man’s life was transformed.  We’ll hold

that good thought.

      In ancient Israel, a priest alone had the responsibility of diagnosing leprosy and declaring the victim

“unclean.”  That law also required that any claim of a cure had to be verified by a priest as well.  Jesus –

acknowledging this as the faithful Jew He was – sent the man to the priest so that his healing could be

made official according to the Law of Moses, and his social status restored.  Is it any surprise that the

man could not contain himself despite Jesus’ firm insistence that he tell no one?  Who could keep quiet

about such a miracle?  And how could the man have imagined that he was doing Jesus anything but a

favor by spreading this good news?  Yet as a result, Jesus was, in a sense, forced underground.   

      Again, maybe, and we sure hope, this man’s physical healing eventually led to deep inner health

and wholeness.  Maybe the years brought growth and spiritual understanding, as they often do.  Maybe a poor

and pathetic leper, who could dream of nothing greater than a cure, found something far greater before his life was over. 

Maybe his memory of the healer was slowly distilled in his heart into insight; into recognition of the healer as the Messiah of God.

  Faith often grows in that very way.

      I suppose a key question this episode of healing raises for us is this:  What are our expectations of

Jesus?  Like the man with leprosy, we ourselves come to Jesus “begging him and kneeling,” perhaps

saying to Jesus in our own way:  “If you choose, you can make me clean.”  We may come to Jesus

with some physical affliction, or emotional struggle, or mental health issue, or relational matter. What

is it we want Jesus to do for us?  First and foremost, we want Jesus to relieve our pain; to deal with

our symptoms; to somehow make us clean and restore us to a state of health.  And those are fair and

right things to pray for; for us and for others. 

     But for Jesus, first and foremost is His desire to make us whole; to lead us to spiritual health and

inner strength; to transform our very lives, not from the outside in, but from the inside out.  While

 Jesus’ response may at first not meet our expectations, and may even disappoint us – we perceiving

Him a reluctant healer -- in time we come to realize that Jesus’ mission is not primarily to satisfy our

wishes and desires, but to meet our deepest needs.  Again, Jesus’ mission is not primarily to satisfy our

wishes and desires, but to meet our deepest needs.  And our deepest need – whether we recognize or

acknowledge it – is to be made healthy and whole in our spirits; to have a rich inner-life, and a person-

hood of high quality.  At the end of the day, we should be thankful that Jesus is not a people pleaser,

but rather is the very Savior and Redeemer of humankind.

 

 

 

Central Presbyterian Church

47 Second Street NE
Massillon, Ohio 44646

Telephone: 330-832-7455
Fax: 330-832-7102