THE LORD, THE LEPER and THE LAW
Jesus Heals a Man With Leprosy
40 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” 41 Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. 43 Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 44 “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” 45 Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.
Jesus Forgives and Heals a Paralyzed Man
2 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 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? 9 Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
INTRO: Mark brings the preaching tour of Galilee to a conclusion with this story about leprosy. This passage is a moving piece of Scripture, as we see Movement With Anger, Movement With Awe, Movement of Indignation.
Leprosy was the AIDS of the New Testament time period. Leprosy in the Bible covers a whole gamut of skin conditions and diseases. If you were deemed to be a Leper, you were placed under very strict rules and regulations for how you were supposed to conduct yourselves. This included the Leviticus 13:45-46 mandate which forced a Leper to wear clothes that were torn, your hair had to be unkempt, and Lepers had to cry out, “unclean! Unclean!” And you had to live outside the regular places of residency. You were permitted to attend Synagogue services as long as you sat behind a protective screen, but you couldn’t attend Temple. It is probable that Jesus actually encountered the Leper at church and not on the street, like most people think.
MOVEMENT OF ANGER
Regardless, what is so incredible is the amazing and daring faith of the Leper. He risked it all by approaching Jesus in spite of the hazard of rejection by both the Master and the crowds. Mark doesn’t give us any idea as to who he thought Jesus is, and he doesn’t use any title like Rabbi when he confronts Jesus. But there is one thing for sure, he trusted in the power that Jesus demonstrated openly.
So let’s unpack Jesus’ reaction to the Leper, as there are some textual problems with our standard translations that are important to wrestle with. Some of the ancient manuscripts that most English translations use read, “moved with pity” or “compassion,” or something like that for splanchistheis. There are other renderings that say that Jesus “became angry,” or “indignant” about the leprosy, however. In my opinion the later is the correct translation, but I can see how that could make people uneasy with the idea of saying that Jesus became angry. The idea can even be offensive when we think about Jesus getting angry before He healed someone. Translating the word splanchistheis as pity softens the tone and is consistent with other passages that tell us that Jesus was truly moved with compassion or pity at the needs of broken people.
If we accept that Jesus became angry, it gives us a glimpse into how Mark saw the Master. When Jesus was confronted with the pain of disease, He flashed strong emotions that were evocative, not at the man, but at the disease, which Jesus perceived as a physical evil that bound the man. Jesus reaction here is the same as the one He had when He found the vendors in the Temple. The Temple where God dwells needed to be cleansed.
It should be noted in this respect that when Scripture refers to believers as the temple, the Bible uses the Greek word “naos” for temple. When Scripture refers to the physical temple in Jerusalem, the Greek word “heiron” for temple is used. One is a dwelling in general and the other is a brick and mortar temple in specific. Just like Jesus cleansed the Temple of the money changers, Jesus cleansed this man’s temple.
Clean vs. Unclean: Jesus does more than either willing the man clean or speaking to the disease, commanding it to be gone. He actually touches the Leper, matching risk for risk. This is significant, as the Law declared that if you touch a Leper you were made ritually unclean. Here me on this, Jesus spurned the ritual prohibition in order to meet the Leper exactly as he is: in his leprosy! This is the exact type of behavior that will repeatedly get Jesus in trouble with the religious authorities, but it is the exact picture that all four Gospel writers present about Jesus, as they show us that Jesus entered into our sin sickened world. Jesus dares to go where the self righteous will not tread, least they become stained.
Then Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once… odd, isn’t it? But here’s why… at this point in Jesus ministry, publicity about the cure could have ended Jesus mission of Synagogue preaching. We don’t know if the man went to the Priests or not, but we do know that he completely disobeyed Jesus, and he began blabbing away. This led to a shift in how people perceived Jesus, as they saw Him more as a healer, which would have given Him the semblance of a Prophet as opposed to a Synagogue preacher. People were paying more attention to His works over His words (cures over comments).
Here’s an interesting take away: In Mark’s view, this was not Jesus intention, but Jesus adapted His methods to the development of the events that He did not have complete control over. This is showing us that the course of Jesus life was being controlled and directed by someone other than Himself. This life course will lead Him on a path that He didn’t want but accepted, the Cross of Calvary. But that path that Jesus was compelled to walk that would lead to the Cross was enhanced by the good He could not help Himself from doing for the sick despite the religious taboos of the legalists as Mark reveals in five conflicts between Jesus and His enemies.
The possibility of that conflict has already been hinted at in the expression Mark uses, “as a witness to them.” The “them” isn’t the common people who were beginning to follow Jesus. The “them” is the priests, the Sadducees, some of the Pharisees, some of the Herodians and the Scribes. This classification of “them,” were about to be confronted with the fact that the healing of the Leper, which had only been recorded twice in the Old Testament (Miriam and the King of Syria, Numbers 12:10-15; 2 Kings 5:1-14) and which rabbinical tradition considered to be just as difficult and rare as raising the dead, happened at the hand of Jesus.
MOVEMENT OF AWE
Arise and Walk 2:1-12
When the paralytic is healed, a series of 5 events begins which bring Jesus into mounting conflict that climaxes in the plot to destroy Jesus by His enemies, Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him (3:6). This series of conflicts in Galilee is preparatory, as it gets us ready for another series of 5 conflicts in Jerusalem and the authorities who ruled from the City of David (11:27-12:37). But each one of these battles hold a lesson individually as well as the collective whole.
V 1-2 Illustrates the movement of Jesus which alternates between cities and the wilderness, A few days later, di’ hemeron is literally “after days,” suggesting any length of time, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them… Jesus would preach in cities and then withdraw (1:35, 45). Now He is in a Capernaum house which is probably the home of Pete and Andy (1:29), or the house He set up for His mother, Mary. Jesus presence couldn’t be concealed for more than a few days and then would come discovery and the large crowds that followed.
He spoke the word: Greek for “speaking” is laleo (the word for “preaching” is kerusso), expounded the Kingdom and the necessity of repentance and faith (1:14). The Greek words separate the tone of Jesus’ messages—at times he “preached” (proclaiming the Good News); at times he “spoke” (teaching, explaining, conversing). The verb is in the imperfect tense, showing continuous action. Jesus was preaching when the roof caved in.
Even though He isn’t a Rabbi with His own Synagogue or regular space in the Town Center, Jesus expounds the word to any and all who are willing to listen. Let’s take note how Mark uses the word “word” without qualification here and in 4:14-20. Jesus is talking about the Kingdom. The basic message remained the same: The long-awaited Messiah had come to break the power of sin and begin God’s personal reign on earth. The miracles Jesus performed served as a sign to Jesus’ identity, as well as revealed his compassion and love for the people he had come to save. He is speaking to the crowds and He is using parables to speak truth and then He gave elaboration about the truth to His disciples later. Even as early as the time that Mark wrote His Gospel account, the term Word was becoming synonymous with the Gospel, around 40-50ad (fragments in a Mummy Sarcophagus).
People were starting to catch on to who Jesus is and what He is capable of doing. When Jesus teaches, stuff happens (1:21-28). Four friends of a paralytic try to get their friend to Jesus, but the entrance to the building where Jesus is teaching is blocked by the crowd. So they get creative. The climb a ladder, hoist their friend up to the roof, and then they begin to break open a hole in the roof over Jesus. In Bible times, houses were built of stone and had outside stairways that led onto flat roofs. Roofs were made with joists covered with a mixture of mortar, tar, ashes, and sand. Thus they had to “dig” through the roof. In addition, some homes had stone slabs underneath the mortar mixture—this was probably the case here, for Luke records that they “let him down with his bed through the tiling” (Luke 5:19).
It is the faith of the four friends catches Jesus attention, not the afflicted man. This is a powerful lesson about community and loyalty coupled to intercession for those who are incapable of speaking for themselves. Jesus first word may seem irrelevant to us: why doesn’t Jesus just heal the man then teach? Because Jesus wanted to get to the root of the man’s real affliction, which was his alienation from God and the great burden of guilt that he carried. Although Scripture doesn’t say that the man’s paralysis is directly related to his personal sin, like getting in a Camel accident when riding intoxicated, the relationship between sickness and sin, reconciliation and health is extremely strong in the Old Testament and where interchangeable terms for healing and forgiveness, heal me for I have sinned against You (Psalm 41:4). Jeremiah 3:22 and Hosea 14:4 say “God will heal His people’s backsliding.” I want to impress on you the importance of this account is significant, as this encounter would later lead to His trial before the Sanhedrin (14:61-64).
The fact that the man doesn’t immediately rise as the word of forgiveness is released demonstrates that healing is more than forgiveness, but it also shows us that in this instance, forgiveness is the doorway to healing.
The four men clearly believed that Jesus had the power to heal. Jesus response was completely unexpected especially in His statement, “sons, your sins are forgiven.” This was startling and it seemed inappropriate and irrelevant to the situation. It is only intelligible against the Old Testament backdrops were as I just alluded, sin and sickness, healing and forgiveness were frequently interchanged.
Healing is the gracious movement of God into the sphere of withering and decay, which are the tokens of death are at work. It wasn’t God’s intention that humanity live with the pressure of death living within. Every healing is a driving back of death and it is an invasion by the Kingdom of God into the provenance of sin.
Also, let’s not dismiss the power of the word “forgiven,” for the forgiveness given to the paralytic is the same forgiveness offered to all who believe. The Greek word aphientai, translated “forgiven,” is packed with meaning. It means to leave or let go, to give up a debt, to send away from oneself.
Normally when we forgive someone, we mean that we have renewed our relationship despite the wrong that the person did, without erasing or changing the act itself. But the Greek word aphiemi goes beyond human forgiveness. It includes the “putting away” of sin in two ways: 1) law and justice are satisfied, for Jesus paid the penalty our sins deserved—they can no longer be held against us; and 2) the guilt caused by our sin is removed and replaced with Christ’s righteousness. We are so forgiven that, in God’s eyes, it is as if we had never sinned. If this was all Jesus had done and nothing more, the man should have been satisfied, but it wasn’t.
MOVEMENT OF INDIGNATION
2:6-7 here comes the judge(s) as the Scribes are introduced. They were schooled in the written Law and in its oral interpretation. Scribes were admitted into a closed and small order of legal specialists only after extensive testing and the eventual laying on of hands. They were mentioned frequently in Mark, and only once favorably (12:28-34). Scribes challenged Jesus regarding His teaching and His lack of submission to Halakha, the oral law of tradition. The Scribes were offended by Jesus declaration, as only YHWH forgave in the Old Testament.
Messiah was only supposed to:
1) Exterminate the godless
2) Crush demonic powers
3) Protect from the reign of sin
Jewish tradition never once attributed that the Messiah would forgive sin. Jesus proclaimed forgiveness with the fire, force, and authority of a Prophet, Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” Nathan replied, “The LORD has taken away your sin. You are not going to die (2 Samuel 12:13). The Jewish authorities felt that Jesus and His actions were an affront to the majesty and the authority of God, and this was the true essence of blasphemy in their teaching tradition. Punishment for blasphemy at this level was death by stoning, and the proof had a high standard, it had to be irrefutable, and there had to be more than one warning.
Jewish Religious Law held that in order to be prosecuted for a crime, you had to be aware of its consequences, according to Jeremias the Historian. This meant that those who did not have formal training in Rabbinic Law or advanced theology had to receive a formal warning before they could be prosecuted in the realm of religious thought and ideals. This was the basis for the Sanhedrin’s admonition against Peter and John in Acts 4:18-20, Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! 20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.
Jesus pronouncement was ambiguous and the indirectness characterized His typical ministry approach as He sought to confound the legal experts in their attempts to pin the title of Heretic on Him. This both revealed and veiled Him among men as He conducted His ministry.
Jesus declaration was shocking to everyone who was listening, as He claims to speak for God, because only God can forgive sins. Actually, the words Jesus spoke were no more offensive than Nathan’s declaration to David that David’s sin was forgiven (2 Samuel 12:13), the Scribes were right to be suspicious what all of us know to be true, Jesus was actually forgiving sin in God’s name. The scribal response was accusatory even if it was only in their hearts, Jesus had committed blasphemy.
8-9 Counter Question: Jesus challenged their assumptions and He challenged them with their question that He had acted irresponsibly and that He was a cheap dispenser of grace. This prepared the way for the healing to happen, Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?
Jesus’ reading their hearts, which further revealed Jesus divine CREDS (credentials), is His way of entering into the fray and taking up the challenge. As is the custom of Jesus, He confronts his enemies with a question. From their theological viewpoint, an obvious truth emerges from a religious perspective it is easier to heal a paralytic than it is to forgive sin. But from the heavenly perspective and as a sign of heaven’s presence, it is easier to say “your sins are forgiven you,” because of the power of grace.
But if the Prophet said, “arise and walk,” all the people who were there would know for sure whether or not the miracle happened as declared and that the word released was effective. And if both words came from the same Prophet, be forgiven and walk, everyone would know that God had confirmed that forgiveness and healing had been connected by the man, and a new level of revelation was being formed. This was extremely dangerous to the religious.