Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mark 1:40–45

Mark 1:40–45 (ESV): Jesus Cleanses a Leper

Synopsis

In the last passage Jesus was preaching and healing people with demons, and this passage continues this trend. I’ll just quote the beginning, to set the stage for the passage:

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.” (verses 40–41 (ESV))
(The ESV footnote mentions that the term “leprosy” doesn’t necessarily mean that disease specifically; it was a general term used for several skin diseases.)

There’s something about Jesus’ response that I especially like; “I will; be clean.”

Anyway, the disease immediately leaves the man, and Jesus “sternly [charges]” him (verse 43 (ESV)) to:
  1. Say nothing to anyone
  2. Show himself to the priest to make the appropriate offering for the cleansing (see Leviticus 14:1–32 (ESV)), and “for a proof to them”
Of course the man follows neither of these instructions, and instead goes out telling everyone what Jesus has done for him, resulting in Jesus being unable to open enter towns and instead having to carry on his ministry in the wilderness. However, people are still “coming to him from every quarter” (verse 45 (ESV)), so his word is still getting to the people.

Thoughts

The actual healing/cleansing of this man with a skin disease isn’t so unusual when it comes to Jesus; throughout the Gospels Jesus heals many people, ridding them of demons or cleansing them of skin diseases or healing them of infirmities such as blindness.

It is interesting, though, that Jesus tells the man to go and see the priest and present the appropriate offering for his cleansing. The laws regarding offering sacrifices for uncleanness are about to be made obsolete by Jesus’ once for all offering, but at this point they are still in effect, and the man should be following them. Interestingly, however, the laws also state that Jesus shouldn’t be touching this man, or else he will be made unclean—in the Old Testament laws uncleanness can be spread more easily than the common cold—but Jesus goes ahead and touches him. Jesus is the Holy One of God, nothing can make him unclean.

But the other reason Jesus tells the man to go to the priest is “for a proof to them.” One reason for this might be to restore the man’s social position; suffering from a skin disease he would have been forced to live alone, outside of the community (Leviticus 13:45–46 (ESV)). Only once he is restored to being clean can he go back into the community, and so showing himself to the priest and offering the appropriate sacrifices would allow him back. It’s also possible that Jesus is using the healing of this man as “proof” to the religious leaders that Jesus is who he says that he is.

Another interesting thing about this passage is Jesus commanding the man not to tell anyone about this miracle. It is interesting firstly because it means that Jesus healed this man because he cared about him; he didn’t do it just to offer further proof of his divinity and to have his fame grow. (Which goes against the idea that he might have been sending the man to the priests in order to display his power to them.) But it’s interesting secondly because it means that Jesus wants to do something—go into towns and villages and preach—and is going to be prevented from doing so because of the actions of this man. The fact that Jesus is fully man and fully God is a mystery to us, and in passages like this we see that there are sometimes things Jesus doesn’t know, or doesn’t have control over, such as giving instructions to a man which aren’t followed, resulting in Jesus’ initial plan having to be changed. Probably the most dramatic example of this is Jesus’ prayer before his crucifixion, when he asks the Father, if it be possible, to take the cup from him. (See Matthew 26:36–46.) What we see in any instance where things don’t go as Jesus would have hoped, however, is that (of course) he handles the setback in a holy and blameless way: In the garden when the Father cannot remove the responsibility from Him, He goes to his death on the cross; in this instance, when He can’t enter the cities openly, He carries on his ministry in the wilderness.
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