Before starting this study, take a moment to read Mark 1:40-45. Although I’ll primarily be using the NIV version for the preparation of this study, you can read from whichever version you prefer.
In today’s passage, a man begs Jesus to heal him from leprosy. He says, “If you are willing, you can make me clean” (Mark 1:40). Mark tells us that Jesus was indignant. Jesus reaches out, tells the man he is willing, and heals him.
After the man is healed, Jesus tells him to make sure not to tell anyone about the miracle that occurred. He tells the man to go show himself to the priest and offer the sacrifices required for cleaning. Instead of listening to Jesus and keeping quiet, the man spread the news freely. This made the crowds rush to Jesus even more than they already were.
In Mark 1:41, the NIV says that Jesus was “indignant.” Many translations say that Jesus was “filled with compassion,” but some of the earliest manuscripts say that Jesus was “angry.” Typically, scholars tend to prefer the more challenging wording, since it’s more likely that a well-meaning scribe changed it to say Jesus was filled with compassion than to say Jesus was angry.
It’s important to note that if Jesus was angry, the anger was not directed at the man’s request, but at the man’s disease. Had Jesus been angry at the man, he wouldn’t have reached out his hand to heal him with a touch.
Leprosy in Jesus’ Day
In Jesus’ day, the term “leprosy” did not only refer to Hansen’s disease. Instead, it referred to just about any skin condition a person could have. Eczema, psoriasis, and other skin conditions would all be called “leprosy” by the people of this time.
It’s important to note that the Jews believed that leprosy was an infliction used to communicate God’s judgment on a person. In Numbers, Miriam is afflicted with leprosy for talking against Moses and Moses’ wife. When Moses prayed for the affliction to be lifted, she was healed (although required to wait seven days outside the camp, the standard amount of time for cleansing).
Because of this, the people would have viewed this man as someone under the punishment of God. When Jesus healed this man, he didn’t just heal him of a physical ailment, but showed the crowds that he had the power to forgive sin, as well.
Commanded to be Silent
Jesus makes a strange request: he tells the man not to tell anyone about how he was healed. The man, like others given this warning, doesn’t comply with the request.
This reminds readers that Jesus isn’t working his miracles for the attention and adoration of others. Instead, he’s offering genuine healing to those who need it. He knows better than anyone that the crowds are fickle. Any praise he gets for performing miracles won’t last, so he doesn’t do things for attention.
Jesus worked miracles for the good of the people who received them. Miracle workers in both the ancient and modern world often do so because they’re selling something or trying to gain control over people. It’s important to highlight the fact that Jesus does everything he can to minimize the attention brought on himself, although the magnitude of what he’s doing makes that impossible.
When we do things, our impulse is to claim credit and build ourselves up. You probably don’t have to think too hard to remember a time someone else got credit for something you did and how frustrated that made you feel.
What would our ministries look like if we were entirely others-centered? What if, instead of demanding credit and making spectacles of ourselves, we truly worked for the betterment of others? Jesus models this kind of ministry. We’re called to follow God’s lead, not do great things for the praise and amazement of others.