Jesus Heals A Leper
Ordinary 6 Year B
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. 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 later copy) St. Mark’s version of the Gospel of Jesus. In their profound and devoted esteem for Jesus Messiah: the Anointed One, they may have unconsciously altered the original text slightly. (More about this later.)
The incident continues a theme developed in our two previous texts: the warnings to the Church about getting carried away by miracles, wonders and self pre-occupation with our special gifts, instead of remaining focussed on Him and His teaching, and passing on what He commanded.
Some Reflections On the Text
A leper came to him (and kneeling down) begged him and said,
“If you wish, 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 and urgency but also with necessary caution. After all, this man was desperate and knew his cure was just one word away. With great yet humble confidence he demonstrates his utter dependence upon God’s mercy: he kneels down before Jesus — normal Jewish respect for One who comes in the Name of the Lord.
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
Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and
said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.”
The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.
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 “Moved with pity”, or something similar.
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 have included this in our explanation.
And Jesus “touched him”. It was by the law considered
as unclean to touch a leprous man. See Numbers 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. In the original
Greek text, the words, “I will do it” are one word. So are
the words, “Be made clean”. In this case we see the Creator
of the Universe in all its vastness now focusing on a single
person who is in great need. The one word for, “I am
willing”, is enough for the requested cure to occur. And
the one word for, “Be made clean”, confirms to the man
that the Messiah can and does restore, heal and give back
to people that which has been taken away from them.
The man instantly regains:
• ability to earn income
• right to mix with his family and community.
In fact he has received New Life from the only One who could give it.
Here was a most manifest proof of 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. They form one principal act of Jesus. Here is the Eternal Word at work among the people showing compassion and bringing about restoration. 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
Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once.
Then he said to him, “See that you tell no one anything, but go,
show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what
Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.”
We draw again on Albert Barnes; as he comments on our Lord’s direction, “See that you tell no one anything”.
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, Leviticus 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 authorities against its being
a real miracle.
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 stern 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
• 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, OSB. 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 verse 38).”
We must be very clear about this. The commentator is reminding us that it is all too easy for us to get carried away by the end result — a miraculous cure, and a spectacular one at that. Rather we should remain focussed on the One who spoke the word — and it was so! That is, we should be remembering the Lord and His love which effected the cure before it was observed. And we should reflect in our lives the homage due to Him. In our time, Christians are losing this understanding and letting the pseudo-religious magicians hijack the Christian Faith to their personal gain. We return to this theme very frequently as it can be difficult to grasp when we are caught off guard, and have not been taught adequately how to assess the manipulations going on among Christians today.
The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter.
He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for
Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in
deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere.
We begin our reflection on this verse by referring again to Barnes as he comments on the clause, “and began to publicise the whole matter”.
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 serious obligation. 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
However sympathetic we may be to the popular practice of public witness to our Lord’s actions, Jesus gave a specific command with force and unmistakable clarity. But the man chose to ignore our Lord’s command and do exactly the opposite: to 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 benefactions for
themselves#. This was not the mission Jesus had come to fulfil.”
# ” . . . . .benefactions for themselves . . . . .” — Professor Lane means they
claim special spiritual benefits and gifts granted to them as privileges,
emphasising indirectly, their own worthiness.
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 St. 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, Mark 1: 40 — 45 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! Many Christians seem infatuated with 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.
Christianity is becoming riddled with the drive for achieving personal goals and self-aggrandisement, accompanied by sensationalism and extreme distortion of good taste and Christian order.
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 (Follows this article).
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The Healing of the Leper by Origen
Let us consider here, beloved brethren, if there be anyone that has the taint of leprosy in his soul, or the contamination of guilt in his heart? If he has, instantly adoring God, let him say to him: Lord, if thou wilt thou canst make me clean. Thou hast long ago cleansed Naaman who committed many crimes, and thou hast had compassion throughout the ages on an immeasurable number of others who have besought thee. Thou, therefore, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And the Lord, swiftly stretching forth the hand of his mercy, will say: I will: be thou made clean, as Jesus says it to the one he cleansed of leprosy.
The Lord had compassion on this man who believed in him, who trusted in his power. To him Jesus said: thou hast believed, you are healed; thou hast hoped, you are made clean. Forget not what you were, nor what you are now made into. Cease not to give thanks, nor cease to confess the Lord. Beloved, this also we must do, as often as he has delivered us from some peril, or comforted us in some grief, or infirmity, or sickness, or from any extremity whatsoever. Let us not be ungrateful, nor forgetful of our benefactor, but speedily render him thanks; and let us offer a gift according to our means, to shew him honour. For this also the Lord commands.
But go, shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift which Moses commanded for a testimony unto them. Jesus therefore saith to him: see thou tell no man. And wherefore, Lord, will he tell no one? Because of my humility, because of my hidden sweetness. And you, let this be a lesson unto you, whenever you do anything of good, do not seek to be honoured for it before men, to be extolled, to be foolishly pleased, as is the way with so many when they do a little good, or have fasted, or given an alms to the poor, or a gift in honour of an altar or in honour of the saints. For these seek to be glorified before men, and to please themselves, losing their reward with God.
Origen was born AD 185 in Egypt (probably at Alexandia) when it was a vibrant centre of Christian civilisation. He was ordained a priest around AD 230 in Palestine, by a bishop at Caesarea. During the persecution of Decius he refused to offer sacrifice to the emperor. He was imprisoned and subjected to prolonged and extremely cruel torture. He survived this but died only a few years later around AD 254. He was a renowned Biblical scholar and much esteemed for his writings in Christian dogma (Christian-teaching) and spirituality.
“Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature”
(Mark 16: 15)
Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and in doing so, remain
Jesus Heals A Leper
Ordinary 6 Year B Mark 1: 40 — 45
1. After a superficial reading of this account, it would be easy to consider that we can’t blame the man who was cured for telling everyone about it. If we allow ourselves to stay stuck in that belief, then that could well indicate where we too are ruled by our feelings — just like the leper. It isn’t a matter of blame but of the outcome of his disobedience: i.e. the mission of Jesus was severely hampered.
2. This brief but moving account again illustrates a key principle of our Lord’s ministry which He set in place for all time: preaching His message is to take precedence always. Miracles, if they happen to occur, must always point to the Word and not the reverse. When this principle is not upheld, the demonstration becomes a display of non-Christian ritual decked with a very thin sprinkling of Christian terms and expressions to dress it up as an authentic part of our culture.
But this, it can never be! Jesus (together with His teaching, His religious principles and practice) always remains our model. He commanded the Apostles to teach all that He had taught them. If we remain faithful to His commandments we will stay on track. If we allow ourselves to be conned by wonder-workers (who even made their appearance in the Book of Acts) we will be agents of deception and destruction. This is one of the clearest warnings sounded in the Gospel according to St. Mark.
3. For many of us, trying to live the Christian Faith as Jesus taught, there may arise the temptation to believe that: because nothing spectacular occurs in our lives, we are not truly dynamic Christians showing the world the power of God’s redeeming love! This is a natural feeling if we let our attention be drawn to the dramatic, the staggering, the overwhelming aspects of some so-called Christian movements.
The Sacred Scriptures: both Old and New Testaments, are emphatic that what pleases God is the daily humble, obedient carrying out of His teaching, according to our circumstances and state in life. Our calling is to live in Jesus Christ and let His mind grow in us. It is then that we will see real spiritual growth in ourselves and in others. And we will see that others are brought closer to Jesus by our example and unobtrusive religious practice than by religious spectacles staged to impress and amaze in order to “win” souls.
Let us pray for one another as we respond to our Messiah, the Lord Jesus, and let Him manifest His love for us and others as we go about our ordinary daily lives.
Mark 1: 40 ― 45
Ordinary 6 Year B
40 A leper 14 came to him (and kneeling down) begged
41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched
42 The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made
43 Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once.
44 Then he said to him, “See that you tell no one anything,
45 The man went away and began to publicize the whole
14  A leper: for the various forms of skin disease, see ⇒ Lev 13:1-50 and the note on ⇒ Lev 13:2-4. There are only two instances in the Old Testament in which God is shown to have cured a leper (⇒ Numbers 12:10-15; ⇒ 2 Kings 5:1-14). The law of Moses provided for the ritual purification of a leper. In curing the leper, Jesus assumes that the priests will reinstate the cured man into the religious community. See also the note on ⇒ Luke 5:14.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised