Mark 1:40–45. Jesus Heals a Leper

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project
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After finishing a time of prayer, Jesus heals a person suffering from leprosy. It is not clear in modern terms exactly what specific disease or diseases are meant by the biblical term “leprosy.” An easily visible skin condition was the chief hallmark. Whatever the cause, leprosy was a disease of exclusion. According to the purity laws in Leviticus chapters 13 and 14, anyone with leprosy “shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp”; and he must cry out “unclean, unclean” to warn others away (Leviticus 13:45–46). Anyone touching a leper would become unclean themselves (Leviticus 5:3), so lepers were to be avoided at all costs.

But Jesus is filled with compassion for this leper, and instead of being defiled, Jesus’s touch brings complete cleansing from both the physical illness and the social isolation. Jesus’s power to cleanse and heal overcomes the physical, emotional, and social disabilities that exclude people from full participation in the community.

From the Field: Blue-Collar Work

As a business owner, I’ve repeatedly had to overcome the owner/employee divide by intentionally reaching out with grace and compassion, elevating the stature of our staff. My blue-collar guys only go to church for weddings and funerals. They have a perception it’s not for them. Often they long for healing and wholeness but feel beyond God’s reach because they don’t fulfill religious norms. I previously employed three young Christians who were judgmental and had a poor work ethic. This gave my other workers a bad opinion of Christianity. Jesus didn’t ask people to clean up before they came to him. We need to go to the people. (David Hataj)

In ancient Israel, lepers were excluded from their communities due to a skin condition. Today people may be excluded from full participation in work because of medical conditions, disability, color, caste, prejudice, or fear, or because of differences in language, dress, culture, education, and other status markers. In the wider society, many people are disrespected because of their occupation, job status, social class, national origin, and other factors.

Following Jesus, Christians are called to dismantle these barriers. Would a woman wearing a head scarf be marginalized where you work? Would a man with dirt under his fingernails feel welcome where you worship? There are probably people feeling excluded or unwelcomed in your workplace, your community, your church. Like Jesus, you may have an opportunity to reach out to someone who otherwise would remain isolated or left out. Doing so may require risking your own comfort or social status, much as Jesus risked becoming ritually impure when reaching out to the leper in this passage.