Jesus Heals a Leper

Ordinary 6B

Mark 1: 40 45


We are advised by scholars that this short account serves as a connecting link between
Mark 1: 21 — 29 and 2: 1 — 36. These references contain other miraculous healings, namely:

  • Peter's Mother-in-Law
  • A paralytic
  • Healing on the Sabbath.

We are also advised that the leprosy referred to in our text is not the Hansen's disease of modern times, but a whole cluster of fungal and other skin infections. People feared contact with infected people, much as we are afraid of contact with aids patients.

Thirdly, we are told that the account has been somewhat affected by the loving ministrations of the early Christian scribes who, in strict Jewish tradition, faithfully tried to record (and copy) St. Mark's version of the Gospel of Jesus. In their profound and devoted esteem for Jesus Messiah: the Annointed One, they may have altered the original text slightly.

The incident continues a theme developed in our two previous texts: the warnings to the Church about getting carried away by miracles and wonders instead of remaining focussed on him and his teaching, and passing on what he commanded.

Some Notes On the Text

Verse 40

A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, "If you are willing, you can make me clean".

At this particular moment we are not sure whether Jesus is inside a building, or outside. In either case, the leper seems to have violated the quarantine law by approaching Jesus. Our Lord, a true Israelite who observed all the commands of the Law, was immediately placed in an awkward position. The last thing he needed was to give the impression that he sanctioned the violation of this or any other law. He therefore proceeded with compassion but also with necessary caution and urgency.

The leper, who we should note, has no lack of confidence in our Lord's ability to heal him, questions Jesus as to whether he is willing to make him clean.

Verses 41 and 42

Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing", he said. "Be clean". Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.

Many distinguished scholars point out that some ancient texts show the opening of verse 41 to begin: "Being angered", presumably at Satan whose operation he had come to terminate. These scholars suggest Christian scribes; out of respect for Jesus have altered it to "filled with compassion".

In practice, we can well imagine Jesus being, as the text indicates, deeply and emotionally moved within.

If we are to understand what follows we must be careful not to see verses 41 and 42 as a five-step sequential process arriving at a cure. There are many diverse opinions as to how the man was cured, and exactly what it meant. We find the analysis by Albert Barnes (mid 19th Century) to be most helpful.

"And Jesus touched him". It was by the law considered as unclean to touch a leprous man. See Numb. 5: 2. The fact that Jesus touched him was evidence that the requisite power had been already put forth to heal him; that Jesus regarded him as already clean. "I will" Here was a most manifest proof of his Divine power. None but God can work a miracle. Yet Jesus does it by his own will — by an exertion of his own power. He was therefore, Divine.

There are no grounds for believing that our Lord would push aside the Judaic Law about touching a leper even though he is deeply moved by the man's plight. It may appeal to some as a permissible overruling of the Law for compassionate reasons, but Jesus is shown widely throughout the Gospels as being able to achieve his goals without having to show disregard for the Law of Moses. Here is a wonderful example. The leper is cured because Jesus wills it the moment the man humbly asks for such a favour.

All the actions in verse 41 are concurrent. There is no ceremony, deliberation, or prayer — only an instantaneous willing of the cure by Jesus and the leprosy has gone!

Verses 43 and 44

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"

We draw again on Albert Barnes:

"See thou say nothing to any man." The Law of Moses required that the man who was healed of the leprosy should be pronounced clean by the priest, before he could be admitted again to the privileges of the congregation, Lev. 14. Christ, though he had cleansed him, yet required him to be obedient to the law of the land; to go at once to the priest, and not to make delay by stopping to converse about his being healed. It was also possible, that if he did not go at once, evil-minded men would go before him and prejudice the priest, and prevent his declaring the healing to be thorough because it was done by Jesus. It was further of importance that the priest should pronounce it to be a genuine cure, that there might be no cavils among the Jews against its being a real miracle.

Offer those things, etc. Two birds, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop. And after eight days, two he-lambs, without blemish, and one ewe-lamb, and fine flour, and oil, Lev. 15: 4, 10.

For a testimony unto them. Not to the priest, but to the people, that they may have evidence that it is a real cure. The testimony of the priest on the subject — would be decisive.

Some modern commentators suggest Jesus drove the cured man away, scolding him. But Thayer defines the Greek "embrimsamenas" in this precise context as meaning "to command or cause one to depart in haste".

Barnes, we believe, correctly indicates the sense in which the "strong warning" is given. Our Lord is most emphatic with the man that he must do two things exactly as directed.

  • He must report immediately to the priest and attend to the ceremonial Law of Moses as laid down in Holy Scriptures. We do not know whether he did this. The fact that Jesus was so emphatic about it, however, is one of the reasons we can be sure in verse 41 that the man was healed before Jesus touched him. Our Lord was not one to exempt himself from the Law in front of people and then demand they keep its requirements in detail.
  • Secondly, he must not tell anyone else about what Jesus did for him. We know, in this instance, he did exactly the opposite.

Augustine Stock has a helpful observation:

"Jesus shows his respect for the Law by refusing to have the cure publicised before it has been verified by the priest. But he also forbids the cured leper to speak for the same reason that "he would not permit the demons to speak: (v 34) and that he withdrew to the wilderness (v 35). Miracles are appendages to the Word and the relation is not to be reversed (compare v 38)."

We must be very clear about this.

Verse 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.

We begin our reflection on this verse by referring again to Barnes:

"Began to publish much" This is the subject of his own cure. He was so deeply affected with it, and so much rejoiced, that he followed the natural dictates of his own feelings, rather than the command of the Saviour.

Barnes points to the very essence of the issue. In verse 43, Jesus had sent the cured man away not in anger or accompanied by a scolding as some have suggested, but in a sense of tense alacrity. Jesus was concerned and was very forthright in his unambiguous command to go quickly to the priest, and to keep quiet about the cure on his way there.

However sympathetic we may be to the popular practice of public witness to what the Lord has done for us, Jesus has commanded with force and unmistakable clarity. But the man chooses to ignore our Lord's commands and follow his own feelings.

Lane adds the following:

"The result was that Jesus' ministry in the synagogue was hampered, for he was no longer able to enter any town without encountering crowds of people waiting to throng one who would heal a leper, claiming benefactors for themselves. This was not the mission Jesus had come to fulfil."

Achtemeier sums up the situation:

"It is small wonder that however hard he may have tried, Jesus could not keep from notoriety (verses 45). The problem is the very human desire to have God at our disposal, so we can use his power the way we want to."


In our early reflections on the Gospel according to St Mark, we have had several amazing situations which demonstrated the relationships that, according to our Lord, must remain in operation between his teaching and his miracles. We observed how Mark presented these as prophetic warnings to the Church for all time. They form a dominant theme at the commencement of Mark and therefore set the scene for all further revelation.

Out text this week is especially clear in its reinforcement that Jesus will not endorse the practice of his followers who choose to give pre-eminence to the miraculous and wondrous over the clear, straightforward passing on of his teaching in plain language that everyone can understand. Anything that fails to meet these standards is operating in opposition to him!

Albert Barnes in his notes on verse 45 (commenting on the actions of the cured leper) said it the way it must be said:

".he followed the natural dictates of his own feelings rather than the command of the Saviour."

When we take a look at what is paraded before modern society throughout the world today as being Christianity in practice, Jesus may as well have spoken to a brick wall! The Church seems infatuated in giving priority to expressing personal feelings and experiences as opposed to the true, in-depth focus on his teaching as recorded in the Holy Gospels. There seems to be a crazed obsession with going out and doing great things for the Lord because we want to do them for him!

This is the mindset of the cured leper who had not the slightest intention of co-operating with Jesus. He had his own agenda and nothing Jesus said was going to hold him back. The weak explanation given by some in his defence that we can hardly blame him for letting his gratitude overflow into exuberant witness for the Lord, misses the point.

The Church is riddled with the drive for achieving goals of personal aggrandisement and personal agenda.

Achtemeier is so correct when he wrote:

"The problem is the very human desire to have God at our disposal, so we can use his power the way we want to."

This Gospel reading highlights the destruction caused to the mission of Jesus in the world by people who follow the natural dictates of their own feelings rather than the command of the Saviour.

Further Reading: The Healing of the Leper by Origen

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