Be made clean: context

jesus-healing-leper40 A leper came to him (and kneeling down) begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” 42 The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. 43 Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. 44 Then he said to him, “See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.” 45 The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere.

Context. One descriptive outline of this first major section is:

Jesus’ Authority and the Pharisees’ Blindness (1:14-3:6)

  1. Jesus Proclaims the Kingdom of God and entrance to Galilee(1:14-15)
    2. The Call of the First Disciples (1:16-20)
    3. Jesus’ Authority Over Demons and Illness (1:21-45)
  2. a) The Beginnings in Capernaum – a new teaching authority (1:21-28)
    b) Healing Peter’s Mother-in-law (1:29-31)
    c) The Sick Healed at Evening (1:32-34)
    d) Departure from Capernaum (1:35-39)
    e) Cleansing a Leper (1:40-45) | our text
  3. Jesus’ Authority Over Sin and the Law – the Growing Conflict (2:1-3:6)
  4. a) Healing the Paralytic – the authority to forgive sin (2:1-12)
    b) The Call of Levi (2:13-14)
    c) The Messiah Eats with Sinners (2:15-17)
    d) Jesus and Fasting (2:18-22)
    e) Sabbath: Violations and Lord of the Sabbath (2:23-28)
    f) Healing the Withered Hand – Jesus must be destroyed (3:1-6)

Donald Juel, (Mark, 43) connects our text with what follows. He puts Mark 1:40-3:6 together and titles the section “Transgressor of the Boundaries.” He writes: “Jesus’ healing of the leper is the first of several stories that deal with Jesus’ violation of ritual boundaries.”

The healing of the leper is a remarkable scene, full of marked contrasts. It is a fitting conclusion to Mark’s first chapter. The powerful but misunderstood Messiah is approached directly by a person who is normally denied any contact with healthy people. This outcast’s trust in Jesus is met by the pity and power of his touch and word. However, the leper’s exhilaration at his cure is dampened by a stern repetition of Jesus’ prohibitive messianic secret: “Tell no one anything!” (v. 44). (Only the priest is to know, because only his word can allow the outcast to re-enter the society from which his sickness has kept him.)

Instead of following Jesus’ word, the cured man tells everyone! And Jesus’ mission is thwarted as soon as it begins: “It was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly” (v. 45). Through this concluding story of chapter 1, Mark asks all Christian followers to take Jesus at his word. He asks them to take Jesus seriously, as he is, at his pace on the journey, and in his time. To be a Christian is to respond to Jesus’ word with fidelity, whether that word is “Be made clean” or “Tell no one anything!”

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