Sunday, July 15, 2007

Kata Markon: According to Mark (1:40-45)

I’ve just begun teaching Sunday school again. Since we still have a lot of move in projects and a new baby, not to mention an 18 month old who is showing signs of post-partum stress disorder, I’ve decided to teach some lessons from Mark which I’ve taught before. Even so, it takes me several hours to clean up and revise.

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.
Leviticus 13:45-46 ESV
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.

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.



Jesus has just begun his ministry in Galilee - preaching "with authority" and performing exorcisms.

The demons recognize "who He is really is". And for this reason Jesus silences them.

The cleansing of the leper, is followed by a request that the man not publicize the matter. However, he seems to have been instructed to follow the stipulations in the Mosaic Law "eis marturion autois".

About half way through the Gospel, we read:

He asked his disciples, "Who do men say that I am?" They told him, "John the Baptizer, and others say Elijah, but others: one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered, "You are the Christ." He charged them that they should tell no one about him.

You say "Jesus sends the man to the priest as a witness to them ... that he is ... "one greater than Moses". I think this is your interpretation of the phrase "eis marturion autois".

I have a little difficulty with the idea, that this is how Mark intended this phrase, in the opening section of his Gospel to be understood. I think he portrays Jesus as anxious to conceal his true identity - except to the inner circle.

Dad said...


I think Jesus is doing both. He is revealing in stages who he is, but he is also keeping things under wraps.

While I think he sends the cleansed man to make the offerings required by the law as a witness to them, he is not necessarily saying in unambiguous terms that he is Messiah. At this point, it's more of a statement that he is one who will need to be reckoned with.

So, there is a mixture of signals being sent. Looking back, we see that he is one greater than the law. At the time, they could only see that he was doing things which the law could not perform.

I think you are right in saying that Jesus is still concealling his true identity at this point, but he is beginning to send messages that will culminate in the Jews being without excuse for the rejecting him.




The Christ Hymn in Philippians has an interesting description of Jesus’ ministry: μορφὴν δούλου λαβών … ἐταπείνωσεν ἑαυτὸν. It seems to see His exaltation as a consequence of His debasement: διὸ καὶ ὁ θεὸς αὐτὸν ὑπερύψωσεν.

I think Peter’s confession of Jesus’ Messiahship is a turning point in Mark’s narrative. Jesus’ reaction is remarkable:

He charged them that they should tell no one about him. He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed ...

“Peter took him, and began to rebuke him”. Jesus’ reaction is quite harsh:

Get behind me, Satan! For you have in mind not the things of God, but the things of men …

Peter, the most important person in the inner circle, cannot grasp this concept of the suffering Messiah. It seems to me that Jesus is “on the ball” when he cautions secrecy. If the inner circle cannot grasp that the Messiah must suffer, then surely “the general public” will be unable to understand the correct concept of Messiahship.

I am not sufficiently well versed in the Torah to judge whether the “Jews” (ie the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes) should have been able to discern that Jesus was Messiah. But I think that in judging them, we should remember that their actions were necessary in order that the plan of God be fulfilled.