Mark 1: 40 – 45 Jesus heals a man with leprosy
A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean.’
Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.
Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: ‘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.’ 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.
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The Jewish law set out in Leviticus 13 & 14 went into great detail about defiling skin diseases, including leprosy. To be diagnosed with such a disease was life-changing. Leviticus 13: 45 – 46 tells us that anyone diagnosed with a defiling skin disease had to live alone, outside the camp. They were cut off from social life and they were cut off from religious life. They were unclean.
The law recognised that people could sometimes recover from the disease. The person who had recovered would be examined by a priest. If he saw no evidence of the disease, the recovered leper went through a ritual and was pronounced clean. They could once again join in normal life (Leviticus 14: 1 – 32).
Today’s passage from Mark’s gospel follows the description of Jesus praying in solitude and deciding to move from Capernaum and tour the other local villages. However, there is nothing in the text that says it followed immediately.
Jesus was approached by a leper. ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean,’ said the man. “If you are willing” and “I am willing” are from a Greek word that implies choice. You use the same word today in a shop to say, “I want…” The leper was asking Jesus if he wanted to heal him, and Jesus answers “Yes! Yes, I do want to heal you. Be clean!”
Jesus heals the man, warns him not to speak about the miracle, but to go discreetly to the priests and do everything needed to be declared free of the disease. There were still steps the man had to take for himself. He had to fulfil the requirements of the Jewish law, and have his cleansing officially endorsed, just as set down in Leviticus 14: 1 – 32. When that was complete, he would be fit for full participation in the life of society.
Jesus not merely healed him, he restored him to full life in the community. He restored the man’s right to take part in communal worship. He restored him to wholeness.
However, this healing came at a cost to Jesus. The healed man didn’t obey Jesus’ instruction not to tell anybody; instead, he talked freely to anyone who would listen. The result was that Jesus couldn’t enter a town without being mobbed; he had to stay outside “in lonely places.”
In a very real way, Jesus and the leper had changed places. The leper was free to resume life in society; Jesus had to stay outside the towns. Jesus had paid the price for the leper’s healing.
This healing epitomises Jesus’ mission. He came so that humanity could be made whole. He came so that humanity could once again have a relationship with God. Despite our sin, when we approach Jesus for forgiveness and healing, he says, “Yes, I want to heal you,” and our relationship with God is restored. And that healing, that forgiveness comes at a cost, a cost that Jesus pays by changing places with us.
Thank you, Lord Jesus, for taking my sin and weakness so that I may become whole. Amen