A Response To Grace
1. In the scriptural passage we read for today is recorded the event where the Lord healed a person afflicted with leprosy. It is not exactly clear when he did this. Perhaps Mark is recording this as one of the typical scenes that took place in the preaching activity of the Lord Jesus.
The Lord Showed Compassion
2. To begin let's read from verses forty to forty-two.
"Then, a person afflicted with leprosy came to Jesus, knelt down and asked, 'If it is your will, you can cleanse me.' When Jesus was deeply moved with compassion, stretched out his hand, touched him and said, 'Good. Be clean,' immediately the leprosy departed and he became clean," (verses forty to forty-two).
3. It says here in the text "leprosy," but it doesn't always stand for Hansen's Disease or leprosy. So, in the new edition of the Shinkyodo Version or The New Interconfessional Version we have "a serious skin disorder" and not "leprosy." Regardless of the kind of disease it is, the important thing here is that this disease in Jewish society back then used to have religious significance. Another way to put it is, more than the physical suffering of the disease itself the true suffering of this disease lied more in the fact that a person involved with this disease was considered a religiously defiled person.
4. That comes out of the Old Testament laws pertaining to this disease. That law is written up in great detail from chapters thirteen to fourteen in Leviticus. To give an example, for instance, the text puts it like this, "The infirm affected by a serious skin disorder must tear his clothes, keep his hair untidy, cover his mouth and shout, 'I am defiled. I am defiled.' For as long as the symptoms exist, the person is unclean. He must live alone outside the camp," (Leviticus 13:45-46).
5. They were not allowed to go near people. Worse than that even, so that they would not touch anyone by mistake, whenever they walked in town they had to walk while shouting out, "I am unclean, I am unclean." And as it was established by law, they were not allowed to live among other people and had to live apart. Thus, in Jewish society they were dismissed from any so-called social life. The teachers of Judaism in that day and time actually considered them already dead though still alive.
6. Therefore, the situation we have written in the scriptural passage for today was not in the least an occurrence that happened in accordance with the expected rules of society. It was actually surprising. As far as a person afflicted with a serious skin disorder approaching the Lord Jesus, this was not supposed to happen. Because he would clearly be violating the law. It is not difficult to imagine the facial expressions of the disciples and those with them so filled with surprise and anger. They probably all at once together gave him a look of criticism.
7. But, the Lord extended his hand to this person who was convicted by others as unclean and as a lawbreaker. And even more, with his hand extended the Lord touched this person whom no one else would touch. Of course, what the man did was to break the law. But, I'm sure the Lord understood why the man violated the law and approached him and why he just had to approach him. The Lord must have seen in this man coming up to him how much courage he needed and what resolve he needed. And until the time he had come to the Lord, the Lord must have thought of his long and sad distance and the long and sad days when he was kept in estrangement from people. The Lord saw him as a precious member of humanity but who had such a long and sad history in life. The Bible expresses the figure of the Lord as "he was deeply moved with compassion."
8. The phrase "he was deeply moved with compassion" is derivative of a phrase that originally expressed a person's insides, that is, his or her intestines, the bowels. Even in Japanese as well, as we say for example, "I'm boiling mad (My stomach's raging with anger)," "It's eating me alive (My guts are getting ripped)," the intestines are used in expressions to show forth feelings. Even this expression "he was deeply moved with compassion" expresses a deep emotion of his insides being moved to and fro. It's way different from saying he just felt sorry for him. This narrative is telling us that there was at least one person in this world who held deep feelings to the point of being shaken up inside for this man whom no one else would even look back on, or worse a person whose very existence others would shun, and a person whom every one thought of as an intrusion and worthless to the core. But, the Lord Jesus was not like that; he truly had compassion.
9. There is also something else very interesting in this passage. The biblical text has been communicated to us by handwritten manuscripts and in a number of those manuscripts there are places where they have written this passage not as "Jesus had deep compassion" but as "Jesus was angry." To be brief, we don't know for sure which one Mark had written originally, either Jesus had compassion and stretched out his hand or he was angry and stretched out his hand; although there are many scholars of the opinion that the phrase "he was angry" was not the original reading.
10. I feel like there is a load of meaning even in the expression "he was angry, stretched out his hand, and touched him." "Jesus was angry" -- Of course, he wasn't angry at the man, was he? If the Lord was angry, it must have been an anger towards the very reality which was hurting that man.
11. We often times experience that when we confront our pains sometimes we face a clear target, but other times our anger boils up inside us in some vague way. But, when you think about it over and over, our anger does not usually amount to a righteous and appropriate anger. Indeed, isn't it impossible for our anger to be completely justifiable? Because in any situation regardless, we are never one hundred percent right. Actually, there are by far so many of us who are angry but condone what we've been doing for ever and shut our eyes to the fact that we've sown some pretty bad seeds ourselves.
12. In a real sense it is only the person who is completely righteous who is able to be angry. And the Lord was angry while under that very qualification of complete righteousness. Had there ever been a person angry on this man's behalf? I don't think there ever was. But, the Lord was truly angry inside for him. And, the Lord stretched out his hand as one at war with that very reality which was giving him so much pain. If read like this, the anger and the compassion of the Lord are really the same. And this man who came near the Lord at risk of his life, this man who came to the Lord without focusing on the expectations and the condemnation of those around him, by this then, this man touched the deepest compassion in the Lord. That's what's going on in this scene.
The Lord Gave A Stern Warning
13. Then, when the Lord touched him and said, "Good. Be clean," all at once the serious skin disorder was healed. A joyous miracle took place. If his purpose was to relate this joyous event, then as far as this whole episode goes, it should come to an end right here. Because the man who was troubled and estranged because of his serious skin disorder was healed from it. However, Mark does not end the story here. He continues it further. Then suddenly here, strange as it is, the Lord's attitude changes.
14. Please look at verses forty-three [through forty-five].
"Jesus immediately tried to send him off and gave him a stern warning, saying, 'Be sure to tell no one any thing. Just go and show your body to the priest, present an offering as set by Moses for purification, give proof to others.' But, when he departed from there, he told it and spread the news of this event greatly around to others. Then, Jesus could not go any more into the towns publicly and he was in places where there were no people from outside the town. But still, many came and gathered at Jesus from every direction," (verses forty-three through forty-five).
15. The word "send off, make one depart" could be translated better as "expel, drive out." Even the words "to give a stern warning" are strong words which we could translate them just as well as "to scold, to shout at." So, these words consistently show a very stern attitude of the Lord Jesus towards this healed man.
16. What did the Lord command him with such a sternness? He said, "Tell no one any thing." "Don't say any thing," of course, this meant don't speak about the healing by the Lord Jesus which he had experienced. It meant don't speak about the miracle he had experienced. There's something else he is supposed to do. What the Lord commanded him was to go to the priest, show his body, and present for his purification that which was established by the law of Moses.
17. The details of what the Lord was requiring from him are written in Leviticus chapter fourteen which we saw earlier. According to it, first the priest checks him over. If the sickness is healed, he is to bring to the priest two living and pure small birds, a branch of a cedar, scarlet, and a branch of a hyssop. He would kill one bird in a pot with water. Then, the priest would take the other small bird along with the cedar branch, the scarlet, and the hyssop and immerse them in the blood of the killed bird, and he would sprinkle the blood seven times onto the healed person. It's still not over. The ceremonial rite continues at great length. If interested, please read Leviticus chapter fourteen and try to imagine the situation.
18. Setting aside what it means, for the most part, this ceremonial rite, to summarize it, is the procedure by which a healed person is reinstated back into society. The Lord told him to perform this [rite]. In other words, he was not just glad to have been miraculously healed, but he had been required to go and live as a healed person, as a responsible person in society. The Lord showed unlimited mercy on him. The Lord saw this man who had not been regarded as human by anyone as a precious human being, and he stretched out his hand to him and healed him. What he received was the unilateral grace of the Lord. But, at the same time it meant that responsible action and a responsible life were required of him in response to that grace.
19. Therefore, he understands why the Lord took it upon himself to speak so sternly to him. Because he wouldn't understand if he hadn't spoken sternly. Because he barely got it that when a person is given grace, it means that an appropriate response is expected from it, a task to respond to that grace is also given. This doesn't apply only to the man in our story. It's the same for us. If we don't understand this we become spoiled believers, party-hardy believers. We may look fervent minded, but in not being able to take faithful responsible action in society and in the church, we end up with truly unbalanced faith lives.
20. The Lord spoke sternly. However, even though he spoke sternly, the man had not understood. He experienced the compassion of the Lord, but he had not inclined his hearing towards the serious message directed to him by the Lord. The result of not listening attentively to the Lord's words manifested itself in his hasty actions. He began to noise abroad this event everywhere and he told of the great thing that he experienced to everyone. His hasty actions resulted in hindering the preaching work of the Lord Jesus. We know the feeling. He wanted to tell everyone so bad he couldn't help it. But, to tell what we just want to tell, even if it has to do with the Lord Jesus, ends up getting in the way of the Lord's own preaching. We end up turning people's attention off the gospel of the kingdom of God which the Lord has proclaimed and off the salvation that the Lord is trying to give them. Ultimately we end up averting people's attention from the cross the Lord went on and his resurrection.
21. If you have received the compassion of the Lord, your thankfulness for it should appear by listening attentively to the word of the Lord and in obedience to him. This is true because no matter how much we are overflowing with thoughts of gratitude for the Lord's grace, if we don't incline our attention to what God wants for us and we just act on our own feelings, then in a real sense we have not expressed thankfulness to the Lord.