God’s Solidarity With Human Suffering

Huffington Post had an interesting piece yesterday by Matthew Skinner that talked about Jesus’ healing of a leper in Mark’ Gospel.

Leprosy was a disease that removed people from society. People with leprosy were forced to live away from populated areas and to avoid contact with others. Jesus’ healing of the leper thus no only restored the leper’s health, but restored him to community.

After Jesus’ healed the leper, he instructed him to tell no one what had happened. But the leper did not obey Jesus’ instruction. He told everyone what had happened, with the result that Jesus could no longer go openly into town and had to go away from populated areas.

As Skinner observed, “Jesus effectively traded places with the person who was cleansed.” Skinner writes:

If we consider the Christian conviction that Jesus was more than just another healer but is God incarnate, where does this take us? Jesus’ encounter with the diseased man suggests that God cannot participate in flesh-and-blood existence without being affected by all the trials that come with it. God cannot remain unaffected by the human condition. God cannot dwell among festering sores, pain, poverty, exclusion and oppression without those things taking their toll.

The human condition can be messy.

In God’s commitment to promoting human flourishing, God suffers some of the effects of human brokenness. In Jesus, God doesn’t just come near. God doesn’t just lend a hand. God experiences solidarity with those who suffer, taking their place. Lifting up the lowly takes effort, and it alters the trajectory of where Jesus is going.

Skinner’s piece (which you can read in its entirety here) had a political point, and what he says about society’s ability to “make clean” those who are afflicted is important.

But I also think it is worth reflecting just on the language I quoted above – and what it means that God loves us enough to experience total solidarity with us – to hold back nothing of God’s self in an effort to heal us.

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