40 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”
41 Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.
43 Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 44 “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” 45 Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.
(Mark 1:40-45 NIV)
From yesterday’s passage, we saw Jesus move beyond Capernaum to preach and teach throughout the region of Galilee. In today’s passage, we see the interaction between Jesus and a man with leprosy. We don’t know how much time has passed, or which town Jesus is in when today’s story occurs.
Leprosy referred to any number of skin diseases, from a rash like psoriasis, or local inflammation like ringworm, to the skin-eating infection that covered a person in sores and eventually took their life. In Jesus day, leprosy was considered incurable. In a parallel passage, Dr. Luke tells us that this man was “covered with leprosy” (Luke 5:12), indicating that this man had the worst kind of leprosy, and knew it was his death sentence unless Jesus was willing to help him.
Verse 41 shows Jesus’ response. The NIV translates this word “indignant”, while most other translations use the word “compassionate” or that Jesus “showed compassion”.
If we read verse 43 and try to fit verse 41 into the same emotional state, then “indignant” works and shows Jesus showing one emotion – all business, very little heart. However, if we take the text at face value and translate each phrase in its context, then we see Jesus showing a range of emotions (from compassion to a strong warning) in the same interaction.
One of the reasons I see the word “compassion” as a better fit to the context of verse 41 is the manner that Jesus used to heal the man. Jesus could have healed the man just by speaking words of healing, as He did to cast out the demons from the man in the synagogue back in Capernaum. Instead, this time Jesus shows His emotion not only in His words but through the simple act of reaching out and touching the man to heal him. And the man was made whole “immediately” – both physically and emotionally.
Jesus knew that this man needed emotional healing as much or more than he needed physical healing, as leprosy demanded isolation. This man had broken all the Levitical laws of physical separation in order to meet Jesus. The man believed that Jesus could heal him. Notice that the man did not say “if” Jesus could heal him, showing doubt. Instead, the man said “if you are willing”, showing complete faith in Jesus, and coming humbly in request of Jesus’ mercy.
Verse 43 shows the other side of Jesus’ emotional charge to this man. Jesus commanded the man to keep silent about the healing. Jesus told the man to follow the Levitical protocol (Leviticus chapter 14) and go show himself to the priest to verify that he was indeed healed.
Verse 45 tells us why Jesus issued such a strong warning to this man – Jesus’ ministry was hampered by this man’s disobedience. From yesterday’s passage (verse 38 in particular), Jesus told us that His primary purpose was to preach the Good News and repentance. The healing was not the main emphasis of Jesus’ ministry. If Satan could not directly tempt Jesus in the wilderness, he could certainly attempt to make Jesus’ ministry misunderstood and try to derail Jesus’ real purpose for coming to earth.
Who or what gets in the way of our “best” for Jesus? Do we settle for “good”, which is often easy or convenient, or do we battle the enemy and fight for the Lord’s “best”? Truly, it’s a spiritual battle that we must fight every day.
May we stay strong in His power and might – we can’t do this on our own.