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Jesus Heals the Leper, Cautions Silence (Mark 1:40-45)

Analysis and Commentary

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Jesus Heals a Leper

Jesus Heals a Leper

    40 And there came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. 41 And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean. 42 And as soon as he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed. 43 And he straitly charged him, and forthwith sent him away; 44 And saith unto him, See thou say nothing to any man: but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing those things which Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.
    45 But he went out, and began to publish it much, and to blaze abroad the matter, insomuch that Jesus could no more openly enter into the city, but was without in desert places: and they came to him from every quarter.
    Compare: Matthew 8:1-4; Luke 5:12-16

Jesus and the Leper

Here we have a specific illness that Jesus heals, one which has caused fear and loathing for centuries: leprosy. Then again, it might have been some other skin disease that was mistaken for leprosy — or perhaps many skin diseases at the time were all categorized as leprosy.

We’ll never know for sure, but it is interesting that Jesus is depicted as being willing to touch the man. At this time touching lepers was forbidden because of how contagious leprosy could be. What we do know is that Jesus consented to heal this man and then told him to be quiet.

But the man didn’t keep quiet (how could you remain silent about such a thing?). Instead, he told everyone he could about the miraculous healing that he experienced with Jesus. Did Jesus know that he would tell anyway or was he surprised at what happened? If he knew that the man would tell, I’m surprised that he would bother to instruct him otherwise.

The command for the healed man to show himself to the priest follows the law about the cleansing of lepers in Leviticus 14:2-32, a very public testimony. And did this man suffer an punishment for disobeying a direct order from Jesus Christ? It seems likely that this story was designed to allude to II Kings 5:1-9 where Elisha healed Naaman of Syria. In that case Naaman had to wash in the Jordan seven times, but here the leper was healed with a simple touch.

Then there’s the little fact that once Jesus’ fame starts to spread even further, so much that he can’t go into any city without lots of people clamoring to be healed, he...runs. Yes, instead of going about the task of healing people (which he should have expected, even if he weren’t omniscient), he tries to find a quiet place where none of those annoying sick people would bother him (not that it seems to have helped).

Why is that? If he didn’t want the business of healing the sick to interfere with with his mission to preach, why did he start healing people in the first place? At the very least he could have limited his healings to a few minor and necessary cases — that might have limited the ensuing problems. Or he could have healed people in large groups at once, thus making the job go faster. There are several alternatives to avoiding everyone.

Of course, this is only problematic if we think of Jesus as divine. There aren’t good reasons for a divine person to avoid people because he can’t deal with crowds. For a human, however, it’s far more understandable. Not everyone can handle crowds of begging, pleading sick people. Whatever might have caused Jesus’ problem with crowds, though, it didn’t last because later passages in Mark depict him with large number of people and without signs of distress.

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