This morning’s text follows the end of what is presented by Mark as the first day of Jesus’ public ministry. This is not to say that these events all happened on the same calendar day, and nowhere does Mark actually say so, but a casual reading of the text makes it seem that Jesus after He returned from the temptation in the wilderness just bursts suddenly on the scene. In this “day”, he begins by continuing to preach the message that the imprisoned John the Baptist had proclaimed. The Kingdom was at hand, and people needed to repent and believe the good news.
In this same “day” Jesus calls the first disciples, goes into the synagogue to preach and there casts out a demon, then heals Peter’s mother-in-law, and finishes the exhausting day by healing the afflictions of the villagers,. This is presented as the first day of the kingdom, the new creation. If this preaching at Capernaum was on the Sabbath, then this heavy day of work which brought so much rest to the afflicted was a heavy day of labor to Jesus. Humans take a Sabbath, but God never rests from maintaining the universe. The day of rest for man was the first day of work for Jesus the Son of God.
The text was are studying this morning occurs on the second day It began by His rising long before daylight which makes us think of Easter Sunday. He felt the need of rest in prayer, and this is the only time He would have the leisure, long before those seeking him could find Him. The news about him spread like wildfire to where it was noted that everyone was looking for Him. Verse 38 tells us that Jesus felt the need to preach the Good News in other places than Capernaum. The emphasis He makes here is on His preaching throughout the synagogues and not on miracles and the casting out of devils. Which tells us that our priorities ought to be the preaching of the Word. Serving tables is an important ministry, and Jesus did the waiting of tables the work of Martha, but this must not be allowed to encumber what God has called the church to do. We must put priority on the best part.
Exposition of the Text
The introduction of the leper in verse 40 almost seems to be an interruption to Jesus’ primary work. He must have been about to enter this man’s town. Lepers were excluded from the town. They were allowed to put their begging bowls by the side of the road and call out for mercy to the passersby. But they were required to keep their distance. Touching one was absolutely forbidden.
Leprosy was the name given to a number of skin diseases including what we call “leprosy” today. Some of these diseases were quite contagious and medical care was primitive by today’s standards. The only thing that could be done was to quarantine such people. We can only imagine the compounding of physical pain with psychological and theological pain. Disease was usually seen as the punishment from God, and their exclusion from society was humiliating and isolating. So we can see that the disease had far more than physical effects on the person.
The leper must have heard the story about Jesus and did something He was forbidden to do. He came up to Jesus and prostrated himself before Him. He was not allowed by law and custom to come close to anyone, but he did. He apparently begged Jesus more than once, saying: “If you are willing, I know that you are able to cleanse me” as the present participle translated “beseeching” implies repetition. The man’s physical need was obvious to see.
Jesus, like any man that isn’t a sociopath of some sort reacted with a sense of compassion. I can remember reading recently of the new Pope’s embracing of a horribly disfigured man and how it went viral. But how many people’s compassion was limited to putting some sort of offering in the bowl or leaving a scrap of food at a safe distance. Perhaps they might have called out a blessing to the poor leper: “Be warmed and fed” and then passed by as if the man was dead. Fear had trumped true compassion and had resulted in watering down this compassion to the point that the conscience was dulled. What pain this man had felt as does every one who has been thrust to the margin of society.
Jesus then does something with His compassion that was unthinkable to the people of His days. He touched the man. The holiness and cleanness of Jesus could not be defiled by contact with a leper or tax collector. Instead, the touch of Jesus cleanses the defiled. Jesus was willing to do something about this man’s entire condition, body, soul, and spirit. What we are told here is that the man was instantly cleansed of the physical symptoms of leprosy.
Verse 43 if translated like the Greek presents it is utterly shocking, so shocking that expositors do cartwheels to get around it. They try to water down what is said. The verse begins with the fact that the same Jesus who had just showed His compassion on the man became indignant with Him. It says literally, “Jesus became angry with him immediately expelled him, saying…”. The word for “angry” here occurs in the parallel account in Matthew, in Mark 14:5 when the disciples were angry for wasting the ointment on Jesus instead of selling it and giving it to the poor, which was instigated by Judas, and twice in John 11 where it says that Jesus “groaned” against the unbelief of the Jews.
Context determines meaning here, and the idea of irritation is confirmed by the word translated “threw out”. Again, commentators water this down to “dismissed”. However it is the word for the casting out of demons or for “excommunication”. The combination of these two words together compels the meaning that Jesus got angry with the man and threw him out, commanding the man to tell no one what had happened but to show himself to the priests in Jerusalem. Again, Jesus was always selective in whom he allowed to reveal Him. He had just silenced a demon in the synagogue who tried to identify Him with “I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” Jesus regularly charged the demons to silence. This gives further evidence that Jesus saw something in the man that He did not like. The man was physically healed and after showing himself to the priest, something he did not do, could be included back in the society of his village. But he was still an outcast as far as God is concerned.
The fact that Jesus got angry with this man troubles us. We, who in America have watered down the wrath of God to the point that we have sanitized Him. The famous theologian, Duke Ellington, proclaimed that “’God ‘is a three latter word for ‘love’, and ‘love’ is a four letter word for /God’.” And we want to keep the Lord Jesus as a little helpless baby in a manger or at the most a great teacher on love. The plain meaning of this text flatly challenges our opinions of God.
If Jesus got angry with this man, does it mean that He can get angry with us? Would Jesus throw us out of His company like this man? What made Him so angry with this man? I will leave with you to consider the answer to these first two questions and will attempt to answer the third.
Those who do not accept that Jesus was mad with the man think that Jesus was using reverse psychology on the man in order to get the man to do what Jesus wanted him to do, that is to testify about Jesus. But as already noted, the context is dead set against it. Besides this, Jesus did not use the deception of reverse psychology; He was a straight shooter, saying what He meant and meaning what He said.
Those who would accept a degree of irritation on Jesus’ part would emphasize Jesus’ foreknowledge of the man’s disobedience to show himself to the priest as the Law required, and this more that the man’s going everywhere and making Jesus known. This seems to be a bit closer to the truth, but it still falls short of explaining the displeasure. It would be closer still if his disobeying by speaking publicly about Jesus were equally emphasized.
Others see the irritation caused by fatigue and frustration on Jesus’ part that His preaching ministry was being constantly interrupted by other busy work. We as a church do confess that Jesus is fully human as well as fully God. This is a mystery which seems hard of understanding. Could it be that the human Jesus who had just worked so hard and gotten up so early in the morning get the better of Him? We do learn from the Epistle to the Hebrews that Jesus was tempted in every degree that we are tempted. And we could as human beings understand that Jesus would have a short fuse to anger under the circumstances. But we must continue what Hebrews states: “yet without sin”.
The Bible presents Jesus as being to penetrate to the very heart of a person, particularly in the Gospel of John. Jesus would have known what was on the inside of the leper. His problems was more than a surface problem. He had a heart problem. He wasn’t right, nor was he willing to repent and believe the Good News. He had a partial faith and believed that Jesus was able to meet the leper’s perceived need which was his leprous skin. But the man had a leprous heart. He was like the man in John 5 at the pool of Bethesda, which archaeologists think was a temple to the snake god of healing, Asclepius, by the way. This man had a physical need which Jesus healed. But Jesus later hunted him down at the Temple to warn him about his spiritual state. Something worse than the 38 year paralysis awaited him if he did not repent. At least this man had come to the Temple. The leper in this morning’s story did not even do that.
What can we take away from this passage this morning? One thing is how we express our compassion for those whom society excludes. If we are serious about following the example of Jesus we will do more than throw a nickel in the Salvation Army kettle or supporting the church food pantry. Are we ready to embrace the poor? Here Jesus was willing to touch someone He knew was going to be ungrateful.
We are tempted to think that witnessing about Jesus is always a good thing. But in this passage we discover that this is not necessarily so. It is not “that” we bear witness of Jesus but rather “what” witness we bear of Him. We see all the time those television “testimonies” which brag about some experience someone has had with Christ. On the surface they seem to be glorifying Christ, but upon examination are bringing attention to themselves rather than Christ. Some shamelessly hawk their testimonies for personal and financial gain. Jesus does not need false witnesses bearing a false witness. Instead of making Jesus happy, they fill him with indignation. We must be sure of both the content and motivation of our profession.