The Healing Of A Grievous Skin Disease

February 12, 2006
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Mark 1:40-45

1. In this week's reading of the gospel, I read you the passage where Jesus healed a person afflicted with "a grievous skin disease." It isn't made clear for some reason when this was done. Maybe Mark wrote this as a typical scene that happened in Jesus' preaching activities. Today I would like for us to listen to the message of the Lord that he is giving through this passage.

The Lord Showed Compassion

2. As we begin, let's read from verses forty to forty-two. "Then, a person afflicted with a grievous skin disease came to Jesus, and kneeling he beseeched him, 'If it be your will, you can make me clean.' Jesus was deeply moved with compassion upon him, he reached out his hand and touched him, and when he said, 'Good. Be clean, immediately the grievous skin disease left him and he became clean," (verses forty through forty-two).

3. In traditional translations, it is translated as "leprosy." It's that way even in the old edition of The New Interconfessional Version. But, this is not a term that points to Hansen's Disease [or leprosy] in any narrow sense, and since it does have quite a broad meaning, in the new edition of The New Interconfessional Version it has become "a grievous skin disease." Regardless of which way you go with it, the main thing here is that this disease was recognized as [being] "unclean (defiled)" in Jewish society back then.

4. Anybody suffering from a grievous skin disease was not allowed to go near other people. Worse than that even, whenever they were walking they had to walk and shout at the same time "I am unclean. I am unclean," so that no one would make the mistake of touching them. He was not allowed to live among others, but was required to live apart. Thus, being afflicted with a grievous skin disease meant being cut off from any kind of social life.

5. But, the deepest pain of a person with a grievous skin disease was not the physical pain or the pain that comes from social isolation. The problem was in one's relationship with God. The people would point him out and say: His house is cursed. His ancestors must have sinned, or he himself must have sinned; that's why [he's sick]. Even, the sick person himself couldn't help but see himself that way. I've sure been dumped by God. Quite possibly, there are still people at it talking like that today. There will be those who blurt out, "I've been dumped by God!," when something bad comes his or her way. But, the feeling of separation which the person with a grievous skin disease back then used to feel was very real and a very deep one.

6. With this in mind as we read today's passage of scripture, we will see that something astonishing is written here in this text. It is not [astonishing] that the disease was healed but that the person afflicted with a grievous skin disease did, in fact, approach Jesus. That was not supposed to happen the way things were [back then]. At least there are two reasons why not to think it was possible. The first is because it was clearly "a violation of the law." It was not socially allowed. The disciples and the people with them were filled with surprise and anger, [and] it looks like these facial expressions [of theirs of surprise and anger] were plain to see. All at once, their criticizing looks were shot towards him, I'm sure of it.

7. However, the second reason is a bigger one. As we've already seen in this gospel, Jesus spoke according to God's authority and he performed miracles through God's authority. In the person of Jesus Christ the power of God showed itself in the real world. For anybody with a mindset of "I've been dumped by God. I've been cursed by God," what does this matter of the power of God being shown forth in a real way mean? At its most basic nature, wouldn't it be extremely dreadful and scary? But, this person with a grievous skin disease did dare to approach this One so filled with God's authority, which should have been dreadful for who Jesus was. Why did [a social outcast and cursed man approach one so seemingly unapproachable by virtue of his authority and power]?

8. The answer to that is very very simple. It's because Jesus was "healing" people. But, if this person had only seen and heard Jesus' "miracles of healing," he wouldn't have dared to draw near to the point of breaking the law because even though others were healed he might be condemned himself. Therefore, it is obvious that he just wasn't looking at a miracle of healing. He had heard the message in Jesus' preaching. He had heard the call out [to him] to "Repent and believe the gospel." He heard the message of the forgiveness of sin and God's invitation. In Jesus' deeds he saw God's forgiveness and mercy. In other words, he saw "the hand of God reaching out to sinners."

9. Therefore, he said, "If it be God's will, (you) can make me clean." To be cleansed and to be able to draw near to God. He asked for that by saying, "if it be God's will," and he turned himself over to the mercy of God which was being revealed in Jesus.

10. Then Jesus stretched his hand out to the one condemned by others as a defiled person, as a law-breaker, even to the one who had been condemned by himself as well. With that outstretched hand, Jesus touched the person whom no one else had touched. Jesus must have looked at this man who had approached him and thought of how much courage and determination he needed [to do that]. He must have also felt the long and sad distance in getting to this point when he would approach the Lord, and the long and sad days during which he had been kept at a distance from others in continuous isolation. The Lord looked inside of him and touched this precious human being with this life [long] history.

11. The scripture describes the figure of Jesus as having "deep compassion on him." The phrase "deep compassion" derives itself from a word that basically expresses something deep inside a person. It expresses deep emotion such as his internal organs being shaken. A man unwanted by anyone, worse, a person whose very existence was shunned, a person who was felt to be worthless and just an annoyance for others, a person who even believed that about himself, but [now] at least there was one person in the world who was having deep feelings such that his insides were being moved about. This narrative is telling us that. This Jesus is truly that kind of person.

The Lord Was Extremely Careful

12. Well, the Lord touched him and when he said, "Good. Be clean," the grievous skin disease was immediately healed. He was set free from the great suffering which he had constantly borne upon his person for many long back breaking years. If this was just being told as a happy event, you might expect the story to end here. But, Mark didn't end the story with this. It continues on. We have seen the grace of God which has appeared in Jesus. But, it appears that we must keep looking and see one more thing.

13. At this point, abruptly, Jesus' attitude changes. Please look beginning with verse forty-three. "Jesus immediately then was about to send the man away, and he was extremely careful and said, 'Watch out that you don't say anything to anyone. Just go and show your body to the priest, offer up that which Moses set forth for purifications, and don't bear witness of this to anyone else.'," (verses forty-three and forty-four).

14. The term, "send away" could instead be translated "drive away, expel." Even the words, "extremely careful," are strong words that could be translated as "reprimand, scold, yell at, chew out." Therefore, these terms, consistently, express a very harsh attitude from Jesus towards the healed person.

15. With this harshness, Jesus said, "Watch out that you don't say anything to anyone." The next part, that comes after that of "Go and show your body to the priest, etc.," was the legal procedure back then for a healed person to be restored back into society. So, this part is understandable. The problem has to do with why he said before that that he "not tell anyone anything." What's more, [the problem has to do with] why he so harshly made this command [to him]?

16. To "not say anything," of course, means "Do not tell who healed you or how he healed you." It means that you are not to speak about this miracle. He tells [him] you should just show only the results and rejoin society. Don't you feel that's odd? Shouldn't [the question of] "By whom did this happen?" be far more important than the results of "What had happened?" Shouldn't he testify to the grace [he had received] by showing Jesus who had healed him, rather than showing the healed areas that used to be afflicted? At least, you wouldn't talk like that today as a Christian, would you? We'd say, "You should testify to Christ." But, Jesus forbade it. He said you should show only the results and go back to society.

17. At this point here we must now recall again the moment when he had come to Jesus. When he said, "if it be your will, you could cleanse me," and he kneeled before Jesus, the true problem that he had on his [mind] was the relationship between him and God. Then, he certainly touched the compassion and mercy of God through Jesus. What Jesus did for him was certainly beyond the healing of [his] disease.

18. The disease in and of itself was not the problem but rather his relationship with God, but yet he still did not see what he was truly supposed to see. He [still] did not know what he was supposed to know. When the power of God appeared to him, why didn't it bring destruction, why did it bring healing instead? Why did the hand of God's mercy reach out to him and not the hand of judgment? He still didn't know the reason.

19. What was the reason? At the end of this gospel, it starts to become clear. He did not only invite sinners, call them to repentance, speak forth forgiveness of sin, and show forth the gracious hand of God. In fact at the end it became clear that he himself was the very atonement sacrifice for sin. It all comes from Christ's cross. He did not yet see that everything was because of Christ's cross. Therefore, he mustn't speak. He mustn't say anything to anyone yet. He must not speak of a cross-less Christ. No matter how thankful he was for the healing that he had experienced, or how much his life might have been changed by it, he must not speak of a cross-less Christ.

20. Jesus gave him that harsh command because of that; for, unless he had spoken harshly he wouldn't have understood. No, still unfortunately, he had not understood even though spoken to harshly. What does the scripture say? Please look at verse forty-five? "But, when he departed from there, he reported at large to the people what had happened to him and began to spread it. Then, Jesus could no longer go into the town openly, and he was in a place where there was no people outside the town. Even still, people came from every direction and assembled where Jesus was," (verse forty-five).

21. The joy in his heart was overflowing. He wanted to tell many people, for himself, what he had experienced. That's not so bad. But, one cannot claim as "missions" when one speaks what one wants to speak and tells [others] what one wants to tell [them]. Moving by a feeling of mission and moving by being truly given a mission [from God] has a gap between them like heaven and earth. The main thing is always what does Jesus want [us to say and do]? A zeal that does not inquire into the will of the Lord will often turn out to be a hindrance to the work of the Lord. By what this one "zealous" man did, Jesus could no longer enter into the town openly. This kind of thing still happens now.

22. The response to grace is "thanksgiving." The faith life is a lifestyle of thanksgiving for [his] grace. The manner of expressing thanks should not be just a [matter of a] person's feelings taking over and running over things. The manner of expressing one's thanks should not lie in a person's feelings alone, not in a presumptuous self-pompous thing. It must not be a lifestyle of thanksgiving of one's own making, a faith life after one's own style. We must inquire into the will of the Lord first and foremost. We must ask and seek what the Lord desires of us. We must first incline our ears to the word [of the Lord] because a faith life devoid of that cannot be a life of thanksgiving for [his] grace.