Jesus' early Galilean mission continues in both word and sign. In this episode, Jesus heals a man with leprosy. The story again illustrates Jesus' authority and popularity. Even when Jesus is driven from the towns into the wilderness, "the people still come to him."
v40. The authority of Jesus is again exhibited, on this occasion in the healing of a man with leprosy, a disease as good as death. There is a sense of urgency in the leper's "coming" as he immediately kneels before Jesus in recognition of his authority. This recognition is carried over to the leper's statement that if Jesus wanted to, he could easily heal him. The leper doesn't actually plead for healing, but rather recognizes Jesus ability to heal.
v41-42. The leper makes the point that Jesus has the power to heal him. Jesus agrees with this comment (something like "I am well able" would convey the sense better than "I am willing) and out of compassion touches him and says "be cleansed." Although the priests are able to declare ritual cleansing, only Jesus is able to cleanse, immediately and completely. Mark's addition of the words "the leprosy left him" describes the physical cure, while "he was cured" (better "cleansed") describes the restoration of the leper's covenant membership; he will no longer have to live beyond the camp, Lev.13:45-46.
v43-44. These verses seem to imply that Jesus wants to keep the miracle secret and it is for this reason that he instructs the leper to say nothing to anyone, other than to a temple priest. Jesus may want to limit the problem of a discipleship driven by either wonderworking hysteria or messianic fervor. Yet, is this Jesus' intent, or is he actually promoting this sign of the coming kingdom? Jesus forcefully tells the leper to go straight to the priest for the inspection of his body, rather than to dilly-dally with his friends and neighbors. Once the priest has declared him clean, the leper can then offer the appropriate sacrifice as "a testimony (witness) to them" - an evidence to his neighbors (not the priest) that he is indeed "cured", even better, "cleansed" in the sight of God.
v45. It is usually understood that the miraculous healing of the leper achieves its intended end; he becomes an enthusiastic witness for Jesus. Yet, Mark may be telling us that it is Jesus who now heads off to proclaim the good news of the coming kingdom. Whoever is doing the preaching the results are dramatic. The crowds that seek out Jesus are so large that the local towns cannot contain them. Jesus is forced to stay in the countryside and even then the people flock to him. So, Mark concludes this episode by again illustrating the personal magnetism and popularity of Jesus.
In our passage for study, Mark tells the story of the healing of a leper. It's a story which focuses on Jesus' authority and popularity.
Much is often made of the words "if you are willing", and of Jesus' reply, "I am willing." The only problem is the leper is most likely saying something like "you are able", and Jesus is saying, "I am indeed able." For Mark, the story illustrates the authority of Jesus, an authority even over a disease as good as death - if not physical death, certainly social and religious death. The leper is not just healed, but cleansed.
The other point that Mark want's to make concerns Jesus' popularity. It is often said that the leper failed to keep his healing a secret and in so doing, undermined Jesus' Galilean mission. The trouble is, it is likely that Jesus was promoting the sign of the leper's healing by telling him to go straight to the priest to have the healing verified and then publicly proclaimed in the offering of an appropriate sacrifice. We are not told whether or not the leper fulfills his cultic responsibilities, but we are told of the public acclamation that follows, probably more from Jesus' preaching than the witness of the leper. Jesus is now so popular that he can draw a crowd in the wilderness. Mark underlines this burst in Jesus' popularity.
As the months pass, Jesus' popularity will increase further, but the crowds will fail to read the signs and hear the word. Jesus will soon preach in riddles - a word of judgement upon his own generation. Finally, the crowds will try to make him their secular king and so Jesus will withdraw from public ministry before making his final journey to Jerusalem. For the moment, these are but early days and the cross is far away.
Every generation deserves to hear the gospel from fresh and innocent lips. Hearts do grow cold and become unfruitful ground for evangelism. Such hearts are good only for parables, for riddles. It is often said that Western society is already resistant to the gospel. Yet, every generation listens with a new ear and so requires a new storyteller. For the better part of the last century evangelistic crusades led by such greats as Billy Graham proclaimed the gospel to willing ears. Then there was the Jesus Revolution followed by networking programs such EE, or Christianity Explained. TV evangelists of varying worth touched another generation. Bill Bright led the move into video, and now generation X and Y waits to meet the digitally enhanced cosmic Christ in cyber space.
So, let us pray for a fresh voice to impact our new millennium.
Discuss how best to communicate the gospel today.