Today I worked through Mark 1:40-45 (the cleansing of a leper). It struck me as I looked at some of the various translations out there how one of my main points, what I think is one of the main points of the passage, would not be able to be taught from these texts.
The words for “cleanse” or “clean” appears four times in these six verses. The word “heal” does not appear once. It’s not that Mark doesn’t use the word “heal” elsewhere or even that this event wasn’t in a real sense a healing. But the point being made by Mark is clear. This story is about cleansing a leper, not healing one.
The reason this is so important is because of the extensive regulations outlined in Leviticus 13 & 14 concerning leprosy. Two of the longest chapters in Leviticus go into great detail in how to recognize leprosy and what to do if a man in found to be leprous and what to do if he is found to be clean. The startling aspect of these regulations is that there is no instruction for how to actually cleanse a leper. If a man is found to be leprous, there is only one option:
"The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, 'Unclean, unclean.' He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.The Law of Moses has no power to make a leper clean. All it can do is recognize when a man is dirty, both physically and spiritually. It declares clean those who are clean and it declares dirty those who are dirty. Yet Jesus has the power to make men clean. He can clean both the body and the soul.
Leviticus 13:45-46 ESV
Jesus sends the man to the priest as a witness to them not only that he is clean, but also that Jesus is one greater than Moses. Since the priests had the law, they should have been able to recognize that Jesus was the long awaited messiah. Instead, what we find from this point on in the Gospel according to Mark is constant conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders.
The application? We are now in a position much like Jesus. We bring the good news which can cleanse the soul and spirit of a man and bring him back into a right relationship with God. If all we are able to do is point out the sin in other’s lives, we are still stuck under the Old Covenant. Yes we use the law to help convince a man of sin, but then we apply the healing balm of Gilead.
Above: The Reader’s Greek New Testament published by Zondervan. I love this small well-crafted bible. It has a gloss for Greek words that are not used often at the bottom of the page. I could only wish it had two things, 1) a ribbon for marking pages (I really can’t see how this was overlooked? A “readers” edition that does not have a ribbon?), 2) and a matching Hebrew Old Testament.