Beholding the Glory of the Lord: His Compassion

And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, "If you will, you can make me clean." Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, "I will; be clean." (Mark 1:40-41)

Leprosy is quite foreign to us in the West. A bit of background is needed in order to enter into this man's story.

Leprosy in the Bible refers to a wider range of skin diseases than what we today would classify as leprosy. In the ancient world, it was one of the most dreaded diseases, and was considered to be almost incurable. Under Old Testament purity laws, the person diagnosed with malignant leprosy was declared unclean and was to live in isolation. They were quarantined off from society.

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.' (The dress regulations were to make the person identifiable so that people wouldn't get too close. And just in case people failed to notice the clothing, the leprous person was to cry out, “unclean” as a warning to stay away.) 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)

Maybe now you can begin to imagine how horrible this disease was, and how lonely and isolated this man's life would have been. Enough background, let's get back to the story.

Up to this stage in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus has been all about raw authority. He has cast out demons with a word of command. He has healed the sick with a touch. That is awesome power and authority. And this Leper has heard about it. Maybe he has seen it from a distance. Whatever the case, he sees in Jesus someone who is able to make him clean. But that isn’t the only question, is it? Ability means nothing for this leprous man without willingness. Is Jesus willing? That is the question.

And so he comes to Jesus. 'Imploring him, and kneeling he said to him, "If you will, you can make me clean."' "You can make me clean Jesus, I know you can. But only if you will to. Jesus, are you willing to make me clean?" How does Jesus answer?

‘Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, "I will; be clean."’

Yes, Jesus is willing. Notice the three ways Mark communicates Jesus’ compassion.

Firstly, He is moved with pity. Jesus’ healing action flows from His heart. His compassion is not the result of some external pressure. We have all seen children begrudgingly apologise at the direction of their parents. Such apologies are not beautiful at all. They are fake. But Jesus' compassion is real. It flows from a heart of mercy.

Secondly, He stretched out his hand and touched him. This was before he had even said anything. The man asks, “are you willing Jesus?” And Jesus touches him. Does that wow you? If it doesn't, just think back to the man's situation. Can you imagine how long it had been since this man had been touched by someone? His life was one of isolation. He had to maintain his distance from people. He would yell “unclean” and people would shy away. And here is Jesus, purposely stretching out to touch him. He didn’t need to touch him. In other stories we see Jesus heal by merely speaking words. In fact, sometimes Jesus isn't even with the sick person when he heals them. He didn't need to touch the man, but He did. Can you imagine what that touch communicated to him?

Thirdly, He spoke, “I will; be clean.” These were no empty words. They were words of sovereign power that brought into being what they commanded. These words were Jesus acting to help. They healed the man, not only of his disease, but also of his isolation. No more would this man have to yell, "unclean!"

This is nothing new for us. Theologically, we all tick the Jesus is compassionate box. But my prayer is that as we look again at Jesus’ compassion in this story, God would cause us to fall in love with Him again. I hope we will be moved to admire Him more, be enabled to trust Him more fully, and be changed to reflect His compassion.

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