Be made clean: silence

jesus-healing-leper45 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.

The Man Responds. This incident has an important position in the Marcan outline. It serves to terminate the preaching tour of the Galilean villages and provides the point of transition to the five accounts of controversy which follow (Ch. 2:1–3:6). The pericope establishes the surpassing nature of the salvation which Jesus brings, for while the Law of Moses provided for the ritual purification of a leper it was powerless to actually purge a man of the disease. In all of the OT only twice is it recorded that God had healed a leper (Num. 12:10 ff.; 2 kings 5:1 ff.), and the rabbis affirmed that it was as difficult to heal the leper as to raise the dead. The cleansing of the leper indicates the new character of God’s action in bringing Jesus among men. Salvation transcends cultic and ritual regulations, which were powerless to arrest the hold that death had upon the living, and issues in radical healing.

Command Of Silence. There is another possible reason for Jesus staying outside the cities in the wilderness places — he had become unclean by touching the leper. As the now-clean leper tells everyone what happened to him, it would have been clear to all the people that Jesus had become unclean. It was against the rules for anyone to associate with Jesus.

A third possibility is suggested by Malina and Rohrbaugh (Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels) which they call “gossip backlash”. They write:

Among nonliterate peoples (only 2 to 4 percent could read or write in agrarian societies), communication is basically by word of mouth. Where reputation (honor status) is concerned, gossip informed the community about (and validated) ongoing gains and losses and thereby provided a guide to proper social interaction. Its effects could be both positive (confirm honor, spread reputation, shape and guide public interaction) and negative (undermine others), though overall it tended to maintain the status quo by highlighting deviations from the norm. It thus functioned as an important mechanism of informal social control. For example, in cases where a person sought to claim more honor than his birthright provided (an action considered stealing in a limited-good society in which gain for one automatically meant loss for someone else), the gossip network could trigger a backlash that cut the claimant down to size very quickly. That may be the reason for Mark’s note here (1:45) that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town. Since he is in his home region and his reputation is growing, backlash may have started. [p. 185]

The phrase, “getting too big for his britches” seems to capture some of the sense of this interpretation. Was Jesus, a carpenter’s son from Nazareth, acting too big for his britches by declaring a leper clean — actions that were limited by law to the priests?

Whatever the reasons, the leper’s disobedience made life more difficult for Jesus. Have you ever thought that talking about your positive experiences with Jesus could be counter-productive? I maintain that proper evangelism begins with silence and listening. For news to be “good” for the hearer, it has to address their needs and concerns. I also think that one reason many people are skeptical of evangelism is because they have seen it done badly by too many people (usually on TV).

Witherington suggests that this man bore witness about the wrong thing in the wrong way and that the results of his witnessing were all wrong. [p. 104]

He also offers this summary:

…in the main [Jesus] came to proclaim the good news of the inbreaking of God’s dominion, not primarily to give temporary respite from a human condition that is eventually terminal anyway. Jesus is certainly not a reluctant healer, but on the other hand healing is not the focus of his mission.

…It is perhaps Jesus’ firm belief in resurrection that in turn makes him take a more limited view of the value of temporary cures for creatures who will one day did in any case.

This is not to say that healing in this life is not a very good thing. It is simply to say that it is at most a foreshadowing, not really a full foretaste, of the life to come. Jesus the healer of temporal illnesses and difficulties, according to the earliest Evangelist, must be [understood] in the context of Jesus the proclaimer of something greater than temporary solutions — the inbreaking of the dominion of God. [pp. 106-7]

 

Notes

Mark 1:45 But the man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. The cleansed leper did not obey Jesus and Jesus got the publicity he had hoped to avoid. publicize. Interestingly, the man “preached” (kērussō) his testimony.

Sources

  • K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007).
  • Alan Cole, Mark: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989) 118-20
  • John R. Donahue and Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, Sacra Pagina v.2 (Collegeville, MN: Michael Glazer / Liturgical Press, 2001) 86-92
  • Wilfred Harrington, Mark, The New Testament Message, v.4 (Collegeville, MN: Michael Glazer Press, 1979) 22-24
  • William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974) 76-83
  • Philip Van Linden, C.M., “Mark” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, ed. Dianne Bergant and Robert J. Karris (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989) 908
  • Pheme Perkins, The Gospel of Mark, vol. 8 of The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville, TN: Abington Press,1994) 542-46
  • Ben Worthington, The Gospel of Mark: A Social-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001) 102-107
  • David Turner and Darrell L. Bock, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol 11: Matthew and Mark (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2005) 83-90
  • Brian Stoffregen, CrossMarks Christian Resources, available at crossmarks.com/brian/

Dictionaries

  • Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995)
  • Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990)
  • The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman, Gary A. Herion, David F. Graf, John David Pleins and Astrid B. Beck (New York: Doubleday, 1996).

Scripture – The New American Bible available on-line at http://www.usccb.org/bible/index.cfm

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