A Cure For the Sickness Unto Death

We are all living in a strange reality these days, avoiding other people “like the plague,” as the expression goes. Quite a relevant expression, isn’t it? Plagues and pandemics have always been a part of the human experience from time to time. And now we’re in one. And we’re all getting really good at “shelter in place,” or, if we have to encounter people, keeping six feet away.

Now, some people take social distancing a little too literally. Hey, it’s OK to say “hi” and smile, I think. Just don’t share the same air space. Meanwhile, we wait. We wait for the curve to flatten, for our hospitals and supplies to catch up. We wait for a vaccine to be found.

In Jesus’ time, people knew all about social distancing – something Jesus wasn’t very good at obeying. There wasn’t a pandemic that we know of, but something even worse. There were people everywhere who were “unclean,” and unclean meant unacceptable to people and God. Some were physically unclean because of disease – like leprosy. Morally unclean like thieves and prostitutes. Socially unclean like homeless and beggars. Spiritually unclean like the demon possessed. There were a lot of people out there that you had to avoid, and if you crossed the line and got too close, touched or spoke with those people, you became unclean – just like they were. You’d be cursed like them, a lost cause.

Now, people may have thought that only “those people over there” were unclean, but in fact, it was everybody, because the ones who thought they were clean were horribly deceived about their own cleanliness. Their uncleanliness lay in their hearts, and it was proven in their heartless disregard for those deemed unclean. Soren Kierkegaard coined the term “the sickness unto death,” and that’s what this was. Everyone had it, and everyone has it.

Time and again, Jesus crossed those social boundaries and loved the unclean; in so doing, he became unclean so that those people could become clean. And yes, it did kill him. It killed him because he chose to bear with them and for them the very burdens those people carried. Jesus’ words “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” tells us unmistakably that Jesus knew firsthand the suffering of the lonely and abandoned. And it killed him.

Finally, crossing those boundaries killed Jesus because he incurred the judgment of those who fancied themselves clean. They didn’t like Jesus crossing those boundaries, you see.

But by carrying the weight of this sickness even unto death without striking back in hatred or vengeance, Jesus found a way forward for us – a way forward into life. Jesus found the cure for the sickness unto death. He had to suffer, be abandoned and die to do it, but he did. He created the antidote – the vaccine for the sickness unto death. And it’s unwavering love. It’s Jesus – God with us, God loving us, to the very end.

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Pastor John is Mt. Carmel’s Senior Pastor.

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