Summary: Why the sea change in the attitude of Jesus to the leper?
Did Jesus Get Mad at This Fellow?
This morning’s text follows the end of what is presented by Mark as the first day of Jesus’ public ministry. This is not to say that these events all happened on the same calendar day, and nowhere does Mark actually say so, but a casual reading of the text makes it seem that Jesus after He returned from the temptation in the wilderness just bursts suddenly on the scene. In this “day”, he begins by continuing to preach the message that the imprisoned John the Baptist had proclaimed. The Kingdom was at hand, and people needed to repent and believe the good news.
In this same “day” Jesus calls the first disciples, goes into the synagogue to preach and there casts out a demon, then heals Peter’s mother-in-law, and finishes the exhausting day by healing the afflictions of the villagers,. This is presented as the first day of the kingdom, the new creation. If this preaching at Capernaum was on the Sabbath, then this heavy day of work which brought so much rest to the afflicted was a heavy day of labor to Jesus. Humans take a Sabbath, but God never rests from maintaining the universe. The day of rest for man was the first day of work for Jesus the Son of God.
The text was are studying this morning occurs on the second day It began by His rising long before daylight which makes us think of Easter Sunday. He felt the need of rest in prayer, and this is the only time He would have the leisure, long before those seeking him could find Him. The news about him spread like wildfire to where it was noted that everyone was looking for Him. Verse 38 tells us that Jesus felt the need to preach the Good News in other places than Capernaum. The emphasis He makes here is on His preaching throughout the synagogues and not on miracles and the casting out of devils. Which tells us that our priorities ought to be the preaching of the Word. Serving tables is an important ministry, and Jesus did the waiting of tables the work of Martha, but this must not be allowed to encumber what God has called the church to do. We must put priority on the best part.
Exposition of the Text
The introduction of the leper in verse 40 almost seems to be an interruption to Jesus’ primary work. He must have been about to enter this man’s town. Lepers were excluded from the town. They were allowed to put their begging bowls by the side of the road and call out for mercy to the passersby. But they were required to keep their distance. Touching one was absolutely forbidden.
Leprosy was the name given to a number of skin diseases including what we call “leprosy” today. Some of these diseases were quite contagious and medical care was primitive by today’s standards. The only thing that could be done was to quarantine such people. We can only imagine the compounding of physical pain with psychological and theological pain. Disease was usually seen as the punishment from God, and their exclusion from society was humiliating and isolating. So we can see that the disease had far more than physical effects on the person.
The leper must have heard the story about Jesus and did something He was forbidden to do. He came up to Jesus and prostrated himself before Him. He was not allowed by law and custom to come close to anyone, but he did. He apparently begged Jesus more than once, saying: “If you are willing, I know that you are able to cleanse me” as the present participle translated “beseeching” implies repetition. The man’s physical need was obvious to see.
Jesus, like any man that isn’t a sociopath of some sort reacted with a sense of compassion. I can remember reading recently of the new Pope’s embracing of a horribly disfigured man and how it went viral. But how many people’s compassion was limited to putting some sort of offering in the bowl or leaving a scrap of food at a safe distance. Perhaps they might have called out a blessing to the poor leper: “Be warmed and fed” and then passed by as if the man was dead. Fear had trumped true compassion and had resulted in watering down this compassion to the point that the conscience was dulled. What pain this man had felt as does every one who has been thrust to the margin of society.
Jesus then does something with His compassion that was unthinkable to the people of His days. He touched the man. The holiness and cleanness of Jesus could not be defiled by contact with a leper or tax collector. Instead, the touch of Jesus cleanses the defiled. Jesus was willing to do something about this man’s entire condition, body, soul, and spirit. What we are told here is that the man was instantly cleansed of the physical symptoms of leprosy.