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The Healing of the Leper (Mark 1. 40-45)

05 Feb

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Photo by seriousfun on Morgue File.

We have been taking a stroll through the gospel of Mark. We have looked at several pericopes dealing with the early days of Jesus’ ministry. The pericope today comes at the end of chapter one and it comprises verses 40-45. Here is the pericope:

And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter. (Mk. 1. 40-45, ESV)

This is an interesting pericope. Again, Mark is highlighting the authority of Jesus (something we have discussed in detail in the other posts). Here it is demonstrated that Jesus has authority over the specific disease of leprosy.

Notice in the passage, the leper’s name is not given. We know no specifics about him, save one: he was a leper. We do not know his name, his age or for how long he had the disease. All we are told is he suffered from this disease. We will not go into all the details here, but to be a leper in the first century was a horrific thing. You were deemed unclean by society and the religious order (following the Law of Moses). You had to separate yourself from the masses and become one of the untouchables: the outcasts of society. You had no share in the normal functions of life and society. You were always on the outside looking in. You were considered to be a plague on society. You were considered to be helpless, hopeless and useless.

The leper was obligated (again by the Law) to cry out, when meeting someone on a road, to inform the person that they were approaching a leper. The disease itself, in its most severe conditions was debilitating. It would waste the person away slowly and painfully. There was no known cure for the disease. There was no hope that could be offered. No amount of charity could remedy the malady. It was a death sentence. The leper was forced to give up his or her standing in society. They were forced to give up family and friends. They were forced to leave behind worship in the temple (or synagogue) and meeting with others.

Such is the case of the man who implores Jesus in our passage today. This man’s anguish was deep. His pain, both physically and emotionally, was unbearable. Yet, he had heard of this miracle worker from Galilee. He had heard of his power and authority to cast out demons and heal the sick. And he knew Jesus was able to heal him even of his leprosy.

So, he makes a choice. He, by faith, acts. He goes to meet Jesus. He doesn’t simply wait for Jesus to come to him. He goes to find Jesus. Faith is an action word!

The leper acknowledges his faith in the power and authority of Christ. He says to him, if you will. He knew Jesus had the authority to heal him of his disease. Jesus, seeing the man, did not flinch back from him. He did not scold him for breaking protocol by approaching him without warning. Instead, the text says Jesus was moved with pity and did something unthinkable . . . he touched him! What on earth is Jesus thinking? After all, a leper is called an untouchable for a reason! For a person to come in contact with a leper, they were unclean. No one would ever, not in a million years, think to touch a leper!

This may well have been the first time this man had been touched by another in years. But, Jesus did just that−he touched him. And with his touch and his word of healing, Mark tells us the leprosy immediately left him. In one second, the disease that had haunted him for possibly years, was gone. His skin was now soft and smooth. He was now clean!

What an amazing moment this must have been for this man. What a thrill. How amazing it must have been to look at his arms and hands, his legs and feet and see not a single trace of leprosy. He was healed and made clean with one touch and with one command.

Jesus did not fear this man’s disease. He did not fear his leprosy. Jesus came to heal the sick. If anyone needed healing it was the leper. And that day, he found that healing in Christ.

Jesus then does something that surely seems strange to us (though it will not be the last time he does it). He tells the leper, a man who must be bursting with joy, to keep the whole thing quiet! Here this man has just experienced a supernatural healing from the Son of God and Jesus tells him not to tell anyone about it (except for the priest per the Law). Surely this must have astonished the man formerly known as a leper! Surely it would have astonished me! It would be akin to Jesus saving me and then telling me to tell no one about it! It is unfathomable to us. Apparently it was unfathomable to this man too, because he does not obey. Instead, he runs and tells everyone what Christ has done for him.

I have heard someone observe that it is a curious fact that when Jesus commanded a man not to tell, he told everyone; yet, when Jesus tells us to go and tell, many tell no one! I do not think Jesus was operating under reverse psychology, do you?!

On account of this man’s amazing testimony, Jesus is even more hounded by the crowds and mobs. Jesus had become an instant celebrity. Everywhere he went he was bombarded by crowds wanting to get near him, wanting him to heal them. Jesus had to retreat to solitude to escape the constant harassment.

Three Life Lessons Gleaned from this Pericope:

  1. We, like the leper, should demonstrate faith in the authority and power of Christ. The leper did not go to Jesus demanding to be healed; rather, he prayed humbly, if you will, you can make me clean. There are times when I want “X”, but God has not purposed to give me “X”, whether at all or at least at that time. Part of praying in and by faith is acknowledging and submitting to the will of God. Jesus did not have to heal the man. The leper, to his credit, understood that. When we pray, as Jesus did in the garden, for God’s will to be done and not ours, we are not praying a prayer of lower faith. Sometimes we think by appending to our requests, but not what I will, but what you will God we are giving God a loophole; or, more to the point, we are giving our faith a loophole. In other words, we pray for “X” and then we add, but your will be done and our attitude is something like this: I really would like for God to do “X”, but I know he probably won’t do it. This is not faith. Praying for God’s will to be done, should be prayed with as much faith as the rest of the prayer. Submitting to God and his will is as much about faith as it is anything else.
  2. Jesus is compassionate. Jesus is merciful towards us. This is important to remember. I know it may seem like a no-brainer to many, but it is important to remember in those times of trouble and distress. God’s love surrounds us and envelops us in Christ. There are times in our lives when it seems to be far from us, but it never is. The leper surely felt far from God’s mercy. If his theology was like many in his day, he more than likely felt his disease was a result of his sin (or perhaps his parents). While possible, such is not necessary. I am sure he felt like God’s mercy was a billion miles away. But there, as he knelt before Jesus, God’s love and mercy reached out and touched him!
  3. We should be enthusiastic in our witness for Christ. The leper told everyone what Jesus had done for him. How often do we tell others? Have we lost the sense of wonder of what Christ has done for us? Has it become common and mundane to us? We, as Christ-followers need to have that zeal and passion to share the good news of what Christ has done for us with others. It is well attested, that the things we are most passionate about, we talk about. It may be good to take inventory of what we talk about in any given day or week. Observe the things we say and ask how much of it is glorifying to Christ? We may be shocked at what we would find.
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