I attended school with a girl who had a big fat wobbly blob on her knee. It just hung there and when she moved it jiggled. I was socialized not to say anything to her like “What’s that weird thing on your leg?” and even more we were all taught that she was who she was regardless of that big fat blob on her knee. These were the days way before political correctness and we were observing its ways before its time. It didn’t matter what we were taught, we all thought the blob was gross and it was like an 800 pound elephant in the room. The blob was there and we weren’t about to talk about it. It made her weird for teenagers who are scrambling to find enough ego to prop themselves up for a day or two. Amidst the weirdness observations, each one of us had enough mercy and compassion to wish that somehow that blob could be removed so she wouldn’t have to have that wiggling thing with her everywhere she went. Still, the blob was there.
A blob-like weirdness in Jesus’ day was called leprosy. Most people exaggerate what it was like to be a leper in Jesus’ day and somehow think that all lepers lived in shack-like settlements outside villages. Some did and some cried out “leper, leper” when others were in their vicinity, but there are all kinds of levels of lepers who were more or less mixed in with society. Nuances aside, lepers of all kinds had the blob wobbling with them wherever they went. The issue for any person with a blob is not so much physical as it is social. Wherever they go they are greeted with stares of exclusion, the way Hester Prynne was treated in the Salem of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s imagination.
Jesus gives this man the benefaction of being clean. That benefaction had another gift wrapped inside it: the man could return to society because the blob was gone. You can read this story, or you can read the one about ten lepers in Luke’s seventeenth chapter, and you can see that this is less about “spiritual” salvation and more about “social” salvation. The ten men have faith and they trust in Jesus and Jesus heals them, but it is not just the sin problem that is cleared away – Jesus wipes away the social blob of exclusion, invites the person to his table, and welcomes them as a healthy person.
The reason Peter reduced Jesus’ life to a “doing good” point is because of stories like the ones we have rehearsed. Jesus was a Benefactor because he gave himself for others – for their good.
If you are like me you ask all the time “How did Jesus do it?” The answer to the question is that Jesus depended on God, his God, the One he called Father. The Father-God empowered Jesus with the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish his deeds of benefaction. It is too easy to say “Jesus does all that supernatural stuff because he is God.” This lets us off the hook a bit, perhaps. Perhaps it also explains things away more than explains them.