Jesus was Deeply Moved for a Leper

Jesus was Deeply Moved for a Leper

Jesus was Deeply Moved for a Leper.

“On one occasion, a leper came and threw himself down in front of Jesus, pleading for his healing, saying, ‘You have the power to heal me right now if only you really want to!’ Being deeply moved with tender compassion (splagchnizomai), Jesus reached out and touched the skin of the leper and told him, ‘Of course I want you to be healed – so now, be cleansed!” Instantly his leprous sores completely disappeared and his skin became smooth. Jesus sent him away with a very stern warning, saying, ‘Don’t say anything to anyone about what just happened, but go find a priest and show him that you’ve been healed. Then bring the offering that Moses commanded for your cleansing as a living testimony to everyone.’ But no sooner did the man leave than he began to proclaim his healing publicly and spread the story everywhere.” (Mark 1:40-45).

splagchnizomai  (splawnk – NITZ – oh – mi). Don’t let that strange Greek word put you off. It turns out to be one of the most meaningful ideas in the gospels, and it describes Jesus to a T. Most Bible versions translate this word to mean “moved with compassion.” But somehow that translation doesn’t quite do it justice. One might even say it doesn’t go deep enough. The literal meaning of this word is “to have one’s bowels yearn,” which makes sense since the root word for it is “intestines.” Since the innermost organs were considered at that time to be the seat of human emotions, and since love is the emotion being implied, splagchnzomai could be understood as an experience in which true compassion has its beginnings from down deep in the gut. This word points to an intense emotional experience that is felt in the pit of one’s stomach. This profound compassion is not superficial by any means, not casual, not distant. This compassion is immediate and so deeply felt that it demands action. This compassion is so visceral that it must find an outlet, a target, in doing something physical and helpful.

As we deepen our union with Christ, as we live into His reality and character, we also live into His compassion, into being deeply moved to our very innards. As theologian Jeff McSwain once said, “If we truly are ‘in Christ,’ then just as we’ve been given the mind of Christ, we’ve also been given the ‘gut’ of Christ.” Every Christian, being a little Christ, will live into the possession of the sensitive gut of Jesus.

Of all the untouchables, except for the corpses, lepers were the most unfortunate. Leprosy was the general catchall term used for any skin disease. There were many kinds of leprosy, some contagious, some not, some major sicknesses that were life threatening, and others that were not. But for any skin disease at that time, there were no known cures. The worst cases of leprosy would include the deadening of nerve endings in the extremities of the body, especially the fingers, toes, ears and nose. The leper in this case would not have the ability to feel pain in those extremities, and so would be unaware of any injury, cut, or infection. This form of leprosy would result in severe disfigurement and the inability to walk or handle things properly. This more severe case would result in the leper’s flesh gradually decaying. It’s no wonder the people would call a seriously infected leper a “walking dead man.”

The leper, no matter the version of skin disease, would be officially banned from any human contact, declared unclean by the priest, banished from his home and village. The leper would be completely shunned and not allowed to participate in any religious or social activity. In order to warn other people of the leprosy, the leper was required to yell “Unclean! Unclean!” whenever people came near. They had to remain at least six feet from others at all times. People would often throw rocks at lepers if they thought they were coming too close to a leper. Lepers had to live in leper colonies with others declared unclean like them, and were considered the lowest in society. Lepers were on the outermost fringe of the outcasts. Many thought of lepers as cursed by God, being punished for some great sin they committed. Anyone who touched a leper was considered defiled and had to endure a rigorous process of purification.

People would be beyond shocked, even appalled, to see a leading rabbi like Jesus actually reach out and touch a leper. It just didn’t happen.  Jesus saw him in his distress, and He touched him, overpowering the defilement, healing every part of this leper’s body with the words, “Be clean!” The man’s body was healed, but so undoubtedly was the profound shame this man has carried with him all his years.

Jesus directed the healed leper to show himself to the priest so he can be officially declared clean. He will be restored to the community so he can live and worship and interact freely with others. Jesus also asked the healed leper to bring a thanks offering to the priest, to show his gratitude to God for being healed. When the man is officially declared clean, the priest’s declaration would also be a way of verifying that Jesus had indeed performed a miracle in this man’s life.

The healing of leprosy in particular was one of the established signs of the true Messiah. By the first century, Judaism had developed a list of what the Messiah would be able to accomplish, a list of actions that would prove the identity of the Messiah. The healing of leprosy is on this list. When John the Baptist asked from his prison cell if indeed Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus answered his question by providing some of those messianic proofs: “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see… The blind are seeing again, the lame are walking, people with leprosy are being cleansed, the deaf are hearing, the dead are being raised, and the Good News is being told to the poor.” (Matthew 11:2-6).

And then comes the rather mysterious word, what is known as “the messianic secret,” in which Jesus tells them not to tell anyone else about this miracle. There has been much speculation about this secret of Jesus. Perhaps He didn’t want to attract too much attention at this point in His ministry, and the crowds would hamper His growing ministry. Maybe He didn’t want to be known merely as a miracle worker but also as a preacher and teacher and bringer of salvation. He no doubt didn’t want people to follow Him just to watch Him do exciting magic tricks. Maybe He didn’t want to be known by the religious authorities quite yet and the undue publicity might hasten a confrontation between them that would lead to His Passion earlier than He wanted. Certainly He wanted to be known for more than His supernatural power, but also his desire to seek and save the lost, and even to suffer and sacrifice Himself to death. Whatever the reason for His messianic secret, we can trust that Jesus knows what He is doing, and that the timeline for Jesus is all clearly understood between Him and the Father.