Sixth Sunday of Epiphany: Mark 1:40-45

People of God, we come to the end of Mark 1. We continue where we left off last week. Mark is an action-packed gospel filled with movement. Jesus is moving from wilderness, synagogue, city, and the world. This is a constant pattern we see not only in Mark, but in the other gospels, and that we ultimately see in the entire Bible. God begins with a little garden in Genesis, and he moves to create a bigger garden throughout history.

God is active in his work of restoring the world to the way it should be. In C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, there is a scene at the end of the book—where after Aslan has been raised from the dead—he goes into the Witch’s home. The Witch has turned all her opponents into stone. When they arrive at the Witch’s home Lucy declares: “What an extraordinary place! All those stone animals—and people too! It’s—like a museum.” To which Susan filled with the vigor and joy of Aslan’s resurrection utters: “Hush, Lucy. Aslan is doing something.”[1] In our narrative Jesus is doing something wonderful. Though he is not turning statutes into humans or animals again, he is turning sickness into health; turning despair into joy. Susan’s attitude is something we should keep in mind as we consider this narrative. Sometimes we need to just hush and ponder and enjoy the sheer movement of Jesus’ healing ministry.

We saw the restoration of Simon’s mother-in-law, and now we see another remarkable healing as Mark shows us a “leper being cleansed.”[2] If we were to take analyze this chapter, we would see that it is structured in a perfect chiastic form; what I mean is that the sections of this chapter correspond with other sections forming a beautiful symmetry.

The scene begins in verse 40: “And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.”

I have mentioned in previous weeks that at the heart of these healings is a strong demonic manifestation. This is an important point to consider, and that is that where demons are present there will always be the presence of corruption, idolatry, and sickness. This is a reality in countries that are still very dark because of the lack of gospel light and presence. Sometimes you will hear missionaries coming from the African continent with fascinating stories of healing and demon exorcism, and you wonder whether this is an exaggeration, but this is very much in line with how the Bible views this. The more darkness a country possesses, the more sickness, demons, and corruption a country will have.[3]

This increase in sickness is a direct result of the corruption and sin of a people. This leper comes to Jesus as another picture of the uncleanness, and the demonically possessed generation. We know that Jesus’ exorcism—when he exits unclean spirits out of people– is a sort of cleansing. So, this healing is another exorcism taking place. I should note—so there is no confusion—that “modern leprosy (Hansen’s disease) has nothing to do with leprosy in the Bible.”[4] In the Scriptures “leprosy was a discoloration of the skin, clothing, or the walls of the house (Lev. 13,14). The problem with getting leprosy in the Bible was that it rendered a person unclean. This meant that one could not approach the Tabernacle or Temple, and one couldn’t live in populated areas.”[5] Leprosy was a form of exile from God’s special presence. Leprosy meant uncleanness, and uncleanness meant being away from God’s special healing and presence.  Remember this why we confess our sins each Sunday. Remember how important it is to kneel together with God’s people, and confess our sins both corporately and individually. This is the pre-requisite to be in God’s presence. This is why confession of sins is in the beginning of worship, and not at the end. God must clean us first with his forgiveness before we begin to rejoice over His works for us.[6]

What the leper wants is to be re-joined to his community. He could now attend Passover and the other feasts in Jerusalem. This leper understands that lone-ranger Christianity is not an option. The leper implores; a form of prayer. He kneels; a form of confession and repentance; and he believes that Jesus will heal. There is an entire model for Christian living in this one verse. But even more remarkable is Jesus’ response in verse 41:  “Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” We see Jesus as the Messiah who cares. He is moved with compassion. He sees the ravages of “sin, disease and death which take their toll upon the living, and particularly evident in a leper.”[7] Then the gospel says that Jesus “stretched out his hand and touched him.” There are two points that need to be addressed in this scene. What is the importance of Jesus touching a leper? First of all, from the “perspective of a leper it was an unheard-of act of compassion which must have moved him deeply and strengthened him in his conviction he had not asked for help in vain. Secondly, from the perspective of Jesus’ relationship to the current ritual system of the day, it indicated that he did not hesitate to act in violation of its regulations when the situation demanded.”[8] As one author says: “The ceremonial law gives place to the law of love when the two come into collision.”[9] What is the result of this civil disobedience from our Lord?

42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 44 and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”

The man was made clean. The leprosy left him. This scene reminds us of how the unclean spirit left the man in the synagogue. This is like another exorcism taking place. Jesus is cleaning the world of evil.

But verses 43 and 44 are rather strange as we consider Jesus’ reaction and the leper’s reaction. You would think Jesus would encourage the leper to go out and proclaim what he had done, so his fame could be multiplied. But this is not what happened. Jesus sternly charged, that is, he is “strongly discouraged” the man to spread word of what had happened. Jesus encouraged the leper to go to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them. What this tells us is that Jesus wants to see that the Mosaic Law is respected. Whereas the religious leaders of the day have corrupted the Mosaic Law, Jesus wants to see it esteemed. This idea of going to the priest is taken from Leviticus 14 where there is a procedure to be followed for the leprous person for the day of his cleansing. So, a leper had to go through this process in order to be pronounced clean.[10] Jesus wanted him to do this for a proof or a testimony to them. But what kind of testimony? There is a positive and negative testimony. What Jesus meant, as we consider the context of this somber passage, is a testimony against the rulers and priests of the day. This is not Jesus wanting to give their system credit; this is Jesus’ way of condemning their system. What is Jesus doing by sending this man to the priest? Jesus is saying that “if the priests establish that healing has taken place and accept the sacrifice for cleansing but fail to recognize the person and power through whom healing has come, they will stand condemned by the very evidence which they have supplied.”[11] The healing testifies to something new that God is doing in history, and if they reject this they will be judged.[12] The priests have become bad theologians, but they still must bear with the facts.

But how do we respond to Jesus telling this leper to be quiet, and carry on his business as usual? This seems rather bizarre. Why would Jesus do something of this nature? Some speculate that the reason Jesus was so harsh with the leper in his rebuke was because Jesus knew in advance (foreknowledge) that he was going to disobey. This is certainly true, but there is more to this, and verse 45 reveals what is behind this strange request:

“But the man went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.”

The man certainly disobeyed Jesus’ command. “He blatantly disregarded the injunction to silence, and assumed the posture of a missionary, declaring publicly over an extended area what he has experienced from Jesus.”[13] You may think: “But this was a noble thing.” In a scale of which sins God hates the most, certainly this would not be on top of the list, but a sin is a sin, no matter how well-intentioned it may be. So why was the man healed of leprosy told not to speak about what happened? The answer in verse 45 is that “Jesus’ ministry is hampered/hindered because he was no longer able to enter any town without encountering people ready to throng and thrust themselves into the leper healer. Remember that Jesus said preaching the kingdom was why he came. But there is a subtle, but profound teaching in this passage for us to grasp. Jesus touches the leper, and then as a result of the leper’s disobedience to His command, ends up suffering the fate of the leper. What was the fate of the leper? His fate was to remain far from the people; in a form of exile. What happens to Jesus after the leper’s disobedience? “Jesus must now remain in unpopular areas and never publicly enter cities. Though he is clean he suffers as if unclean because he touched one who was unclean and made him clean. What does this mean? It means that this is a vivid picture of Jesus suffering under the curse that those who deserved the curse might experience a blessing.”[14] The wilderness is a curse and a place of testing, but our Lord became a curse for us, and was tested for us, that we might not be doomed.

What this story teaches us is that Jesus will not stop until he removes authority from evil, and assumes this authority by his actions, and ultimately by his death. Mark 1 is a mini-preparation for the season of Lent when we will consider the remarkable and world-altering days before the crucifixion of our Lord.

How Now Shall We Then Live? What can we learn from this narrative? Several things:

First, Jesus is full of compassion. He cares about our big problems, as well as issues of minor significance. He is profoundly committed to our restoration and, yes, our happiness. Jesus is not a kill-joy, but a joy-bringer. In this story, the leper in fact teaches us how to pursue the favor of God. We begin by imploring him. The idea of “implore” implies a committed effort to see something change. We should not expect God to do what he said he would do if we do not believe he will do it. The end result of a true imploring for the Christian is that if God heals it is because it is best for you; if God does not heal it is because it is best for you. The end-result is a win-win. The Bible says we are to come with boldness before the throne of grace. This is what it means to implore.

Secondly, the leper also kneels. Kneeling is a biblical gesture of our dependence on God. It implies that we are incapable of accomplishing certain things. Kneeling is in fact the posture of redeemed people. Only those who have tasted of redemption can kneel to the God of Scriptures. The leper knows that this is outside of his control. At times we want to fix everything. We think everything is in our control. We are the captains of our ships, masters of our souls. But God is the sustainer of our lives. We owe him all that we have and are.

Finally, we sometimes are too hasty to act before knowing what God says. We have good intentions, and we think that we do not need one another; that we do not need wisdom from others. This is what the leper did. He did something believing it was wise. But ultimately nothing contrary to the words of Christ is deemed wise. We must be cautious with our actions. How many times have we acted before thinking through issues? How many times have we acted only to find out that if we had just sought counsel we would have avoided a great turmoil? Even our good intentions need to be bathed in biblical wisdom and patience.

People of God, the God of all grace pours grace upon grace on us. Our needs are met in him; our hopes are met in him; and our lives are to be identified in him. What is Jesus doing in the world? He is ransacking and restoring a world corrupted by demons and corrupt leaders. After this process is over, the world, which was once filled with darkness will be like the …the ransacking of the Witch’s fortress …the ransacking of the Witch’s fortress in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:

“The whole castle stood empty with every door and window open and the light and the sweet spring air flooding in to all the dark and evil places which needed them so badly.”

The light of the gospel is penetrating even the darkest regions of the ancient world and ours today. Thanks be to God!

In The Name of God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] C.S. Lewis, chapter entitled What happened about the statutes.

[2] Horne, 44.

[3] See Garland’s provocative piece entitled I am the Lord Your Healer in Faculty Address for the Review and Expositor, 85.

[4] Horne, 46.

[5] Horne, 46.

[6] A central feature of Covenant Renewal Worship: Cleansing comes before consecration.

[7] William Lane, Commentary on Mark, 86.

[8] Lane.

[9] Ibid. H. van der Loos.

[10] Lane, 87.

[11] Ibid. 88

[12] The final rejection of the priestly system comes in AD 70 with the destruction of the temple.

[13] Lane, 88.

[14] Horne, 47.


About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
This entry was posted in Mark, Sermons/Epiphany and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Sixth Sunday of Epiphany: Mark 1:40-45

  1. Pingback: turn away from evil « JRFibonacci's blog: partnering with reality

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