On my recent vacation in the Canadian Rocky Mountains I learned about the chinook wind. The chinook wind is a rapid climate phenomenon produced by specific atmospheric conditions interacting with the stark geography of the high mountains. If all the proper conditions line up correctly a chinook wind is produced which is a steady stream of warm air that flows down from the mountain tops into the valley below on the eastern side of the Canadian Rockies. This wind has been known to sometimes melt thirty inches of snow in the course of a single day! The largest temperature shift produced by a chinook wind was recorded in the seventies when the wind moved the temperature from forty degrees below zero to forty-five degrees above zero in a twenty-four hour period. In the frigid cold of a Canadian winter the chinook wind is a promise of spring and an end to winter.
The beginning of Mark’s gospel can almost be read as the movement and power of a chinook wind! Jesus appears on the scene, he is baptized by John in the Jordan, he overcomes the temptations in the desert and he begins his ministry by calling his first disciples. He casts out demons, he cures many people of their illnesses and in today’s gospel we have our Lord healing a leper. “If you wish,” says the leper, “you can make me clean.” All of this within the very first chapter of Mark’s gospel!
Mark wants us to know that in Christ the grace, life and salvation of God has poured forth into our world and into our hearts – so long frozen and locked in sin and death! Something utterly new and unique is occurring within this man called Jesus! Jesus teaches, he heals, he casts out demons, he calls people with his own authority and he neither acts nor speaks like the scribes and the Pharisees.
It is interesting and telling that it is the people in need – the leper, the person who is ill, the one possessed by a demon, the poor, the flock without the shepherd – who first recognize this and realize that something new is occurring. The leper kneels before Jesus and says, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Those persons caught up in their own power and need to control – be that political, religious or social – do not recognize (throughout the gospel story) Christ both for who he, himself, is and for the grace and salvation he brings. They are locked within themselves. The people who are in need, the people who recognize their poverty are the ones who are open to the great wind of mercy, life and hope that Christ brings and who receive that life!
Christ brings life and healing but we, on our part, must recognize that we need life, that we are mortally wounded and that, without Christ, we are lost! We must be honest enough to continually admit our need, our frailty and our weakness. This is not just a recognition for the beginning of our faith journey but rather an honest assessment needed for every day of our faith journey! Christ does not come just to encourage or to applaud our efforts. Christ comes to give us life and salvation and without him we are both lost and we are dead!
Today’s gospel passage ends by saying that Jesus remained outside in the deserted places, yet “people kept coming to him from everywhere.” They recognized and they knew that something utterly unique was occurring in this man named Jesus – the very pouring forth of the mercy and life of God into our world! May we also recognize this.