Mark 1:35 - 2:12
The passage is not referring to the modern form of leprosy also called Hansen’s Disease. The biblical term refers to a variety of conditions, including psoriasis, lupus, and ringworm.
In Jesus’ day, lepers were not permitted to come near others. They were isolated, stigmatized and feared. They could not be part of the community or join worship. Above all lepers were never to be touched.
In light of this, (see #2 for Jesus' reaction to seeing the man) what Jesus does (touches the man) and where he sends the man after he heals him (into the worshiping community) is a picture of a deep and restorative healing of not just a condition but of his entire life.
2. Splangchizomai…from the noun, Splagchnon. (1:41)
This greek word is translated here in 1:41 as “Moved with pity” (NRSV) or “Jesus was indignant.” (NIV). It’s a word that literally means, “to feel in my bowels/intestines,” but it was used as a figure of speech to speak of deeply and intensely feeling emotions such as love, compassion, pity and anger.
Today, we have a related saying that also points to how we feel intensely those same emotions and from where much of our choices and reactions are made: “My gut instinct / gut reaction / gut feeling.” That which we feel in our guts, we feel strongly, at times, overwhelmingly, moving us to action.
Jesus is feeling deeply in his guts pity, compassion…maybe even anger, at with what he’s confronting in the man with leprosy and so he follows his gut. He doesn't stop simply feeling; he acts on his compassion and moves to help.
3. Commands to Keep Silent (1:44)
Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. . (1:43-44)
Why all the secrecy? You'll notice throughout Mark Jesus commanding people not to spread news of what he's done for them. A theory called the ‘messianic secret’ that tries to explain why Jesus’ does this. The reason, the theory goes, is that the author, Mark, wanted to help the disciples look a bit better by giving these commands for silence as an explanation for why the disciples could not undersatnd sooner who Jesus truly was sooner.
But if we simply read Mark, there are plenty of natural reasons why Jesus wanted the people he healed to be discreet:
- As one who performs miracles, Jesus wanted to keep a low profile. This was in contrast to many who perform amazing works or miracles to build up their reputation. This is not Jesus’ goal in these displays of power and authority.
- Politically, Jesus prefers keeping a low profile from his opponents in order to have more time to preach and proclaim the message of God’s kingdom. Crowds would draw attention to him; and crowds would hinder him in getting to where he actually wanted to go and preach.
- Jesus did not intend to prove who he was by his acts of authority and power. He healed out of love for the sufferer. He exercised power and authority in casting out demons because they had no right to occupy and spoil human lives.
- Jesus ultimately wanted the world to recognize him, to be fully revealed as God’s Son, as the King, when he died on the cross for all people out of love for the world.
The second chapter of Mark (2:1-3:6) contains 5 events that all show growing opposition to Jesus’ message and ministry. There many are poor responses to good work, to God's work.
5. Which is easier?
Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? (2:9)
Jesus is making a kind of greater-to-lesser argument. It is easier to say ‘your sins are forgiven’ since no one will know whether or not the forgiveness has taken place. But to say ‘you are healed’ requires you to give immediate proof of the healing.
What Jesus is saying that he’ll do what is harder of the two so his opponents might know he can actually do both.
6. Son of Man
Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things?...But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” (2:8,10)
This is a term that’s difficult for scholars to pinpoint. It’s likely a reference to Daniel 7:13-14, to a mysterious figure who brings salvation and deliverance and has everlasting authority and power. Such a reference makes sense for this passage where Jesus is confronted about the extent of his authority over sin and disease
In Mark’s gospel, Jesus is the only one to refer to himself as ‘the Son of Man.’ No one else calls him that - so we cannot see how others understood this title.
Even if it’s difficult to concretely define what “The Son of Man” means in Mark’s gospel, we learn what the Son of Man does:
- He has authority to forgive sins (2:10).
- He is Lord of the Sabbath (2:28).
- He will be betrayed (14:21, 41),
- Suffer being scorned and disgraced and death, and be raised on the third day (8:31, 38; 9:9, 12; 10:33).
- He comes not to be served but to give his life as a ransom for many (10:45).
- He will be seated at the right hand of power, return on the clouds, and gather his elect (13:26–27; 14:62).
7. Forgiveness and Healing
We’re used to viewing disease as something that should have a single, or at least a clear, cause. At the same time, we increasingly know that there aren't fixed boundaries between our bodies, our minds and our souls. One can have a significant impact on the other areas of life.
Still, this passage may make us uncomfortable in thinking that sin causes disease. But strictly speaking in biblical terms, sin does affects everything: emotional, relational, physical and spiritual health are all affected by sin in Scripture.
However, there’s a unity between forgiveness and healing in this story that is crucial to understanding Christian mission. This is not a passage that was intended to explain which sins lead to which diseases or why bad things happen to good people. This is not addressing those matters. Scholar Donald English writes that what this passage teaches us is that Jesus forgives and heals here because
both sin and disease are harmful to and destructive of human life, and Christians are called to oppose everything which threatens full humanity, and to do so in the name of the kingdom of God. Evangelism, social caring, justice issues, bodily health, ecological concern, racial harmony, affirmation of women as well as men in our society are all issues for the Christian. To limit our perspectives is to miss the point of this passage and to fight only half-heartedly for the kingdom in the struggle against evil.