Leprosy was a debilitating disease. The leper was considered socially and religiously unclean (Lev 13–14).They were not allowed to live with the rest of the society, but had to live outside the city (Luke 17:12). When a leper touched another person, the one that he touched too will have contracted uncleanness. Leprosy was a symbol of sin and needed cleansing (Num 12:10).
In Mark 1:40, we see that a leper came close to Jesus, risking social and religious distancing norms. He did not maintain the 50 feet distance, risking his own life and Jesus’ life. He broke all the norms and demonstrated an unusual courage just like the four men who carried the paralytic to Jesus. He makes an unusual request to Jesus, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” The Greek construction of the leper’s prayer reveals that his request was not one with faith.
Only God can heal leprosy
We see in 2 Kings 5:7 that only God can heal leprosy. It was a foregone conclusion that leprosy was incurable and could only be cured by God. God can heal leprosy just as only God can forgive sins (Mark 2:6-7). The four men in Mark 2:6-7 brought the paralytic to Jesus. We know that even till now there is no cure for paralysis and anyone suffering from it must live with it for the rest of his life. When the 4 men lowered him down from top of the roof, Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven!”
There was a Greek Philosopher, named Epicurus, who lived about 300 years before Christ. His teachings were founded in his home and garden, the school was often called The Garden. One of his teachings included a paradox, called the Epicurean paradox – “God either wishes to take away evils, and is unable; or He is able, and is unwilling; or He is neither willing nor able, or He is both willing and able.” What do we notice here in the passage? Jesus was both willing and able! My observation is that although this was said about 300 years before Christ, the popular paradox spread everywhere. The leper came to Jesus and said without any certainty as if God was not interested in his people.
I am willing. Be clean!
What did Jesus say in response to his request? Jesus said, “I am willing. Be clean!” And the leprosy left him immediately (verse 42). This is the same language that is used in other places for the demon leaving a person immediately. The leper who was a social and a religious outcast was completely clean, immediately. Contrary to what we see in the Old Testament and what we see in reality, Jesus does not become unclean. Instead the unclean person becomes clean! This is very powerful, isn’t it?
If Jesus heals leprosy and paralysis, Jesus is God—this is called the secret identity of Jesus. Some scholars call it the Messianic secret. The author’s intention is not explicitly stated here but the actions reveal it. Jesus’ action points to His person.
In 2 Kings 5:7, the king of Israel was infuriated and asked if he was God to heal the leper but here we see that Jesus cleanses a leper. So indirectly, Mark is saying that Jesus is God! In the next passage, we see that Jesus looks at the paralytic and says, “Your sins are forgiven.” And the scribes, the learned people are considering “Is He God to forgive sins? Only God can forgive sins.” Jesus’ healing of the paralytic validates Jesus’ claim that He forgives sins.
People considered Jesus as Mary’s son and Joseph’s son. Mark is drawing attention to the fact to look at the true identity of Who Jesus is. This kind of logical deduction or reverse logic is called Enthymeme in the Greco-Roman rhetoric. Jesus said that his sins are forgiven and later on goes to heal the paralytic. This shows that what He said earlier about Himself is true, that He has the power to forgive sins and heal the leper, then He is God!
Lessons from the Leper’s Response
When Mark wrote this particular passage, the emphasis was not on the leper, but on who Jesus is. So, when Mark talks about the leper and his response, he is looking for similar responses from the disciples and other recipients from this incident. What are those responses?
1. Preach: Though Jesus told him to go to the priests first, he began to “preach”, “Kerusso” (1:14). Jesus had called his disciples to preach the good news. The leper was not disobeying. At some point he would have gone to the temple and cleansed himself. But the initial response of the leper is to preach.
2. Proclaim: This is the main purpose for which Jesus chose His disciples. The leper had to sit about 50 feet away from the people as an outcast. But we see him doing something amazing here. He began to preach publicly and announced the healing story widely.
3. Testify: His testimony drove people to Jesus (Mark 1:45). When Jesus went to Capernaum, to Peter’s mother-in-law’s house, there was a big crowd there already. It was probably due to the testimony of the leper. In another situation, in John 9 the incident happened in Jerusalem. Jesus had healed the blind man and the blind man went and told everyone of the healing. A leper who did not have any particular training, but only a personal encounter with Jesus provides an amazing model for responses expected from us. The leper is an evangelist and a preacher!
Come & bring others to Jesus, because He is God
I look at many of our friends and families carrying so many burdens. Often times, broken, wearied, and sad and not making use of the amazing provision that we have in Jesus. This leper was not from Capernaum, but probably from Bethany. He rushed to meet Jesus and even says, “if you will, make me clean.” And Jesus heals him. Let us come to Jesus because Jesus is God!
Let us also bring others to Jesus because Jesus is God. If a leper could go out, preach and gather a large group of people; if a blind man could go out and challenge the authorities with his personal encounter with Jesus, how could we remain silent? We too can function like the four men and bring others to Jesus so that Jesus can pronounce that their sins are forgiven! If you and I don’t do the task of bringing others to Jesus, who else will?
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