17 February 2024

Compassion: Jesus heals

Major Steve Dutfield

Major Steve Dutfield is encouraged by the compassion of Jesus.

Key text

Mark’s Gospel is well known for being fast-paced, moving quickly from one scene to another. We are not yet at the end of Chapter 1 and already we have read about John the Baptist, Jesus’ baptism and temptations, the announcement of the Kingdom, the calling of the first disciples, the driving out of an impure spirit, and the healing of many.

Within a few short verses, Jesus’ ministry is well under way and the evidence of the Kingdom of God in their midst is clear for all to see.

Clearly news of Jesus is spreading as rapidly as Mark wants us to believe. Then in our study passage we come across this story of a man with leprosy who desperately desires to be clean. There were a number of diseases in the first century that could be covered by the term leprosy, but whatever particular disease this man had, he was considered unclean.

Because of this he had to maintain a distance of 50 paces from other people – much more than the two-metre distancing most of us got used to during the first outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. He was an outcast from society, living alone, unable to work and reduced to begging.

The implications of his condition meant that his impurity was not just medical but also religious, social and financial. This was certainly no lifestyle choice.

Pause and reflect

  • Who are the untouchables in the world you occupy? How do you feel when those on the margins of society are treated so badly by people and by the authorities?

In his desperation the man realised that, if there was to be any sort of meaningful future for him, he had to take whatever opportunities presented themselves. He had clearly heard about Jesus, and our study passage suggests that he had total confidence in him. He begged Jesus, falling to his knees: ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean.’ But would Jesus actually help him?

A photo shows someone walking away from old wooden crutches.

Mark 1:40

If you are willing, you can make me clean.

Read Mark 1

While the New International Version suggests that Jesus was indignant, implying that perhaps Jesus was annoyed, or even angry, some translations suggest that we should better read this as ‘Jesus was filled with compassion’. As Jesus replies, we can almost hear the compassion in his voice: ‘I am willing. Be clean!’

This was no delayed healing. There was no waiting list. Again, the immediacy of Mark shines through as we read that this man was instantly healed.

Of course, this meant a total change in his life – no more religious or social isolation, no more being treated as unclean. Once again, he would be accepted and able to return to normal society. In his desperation, this leper had stepped out in faith. What a risk! Yet it was one he was willing to take.

Pause and reflect

  • How desperate are you to be made clean by Jesus?
  • Are you fully confident in Jesus’ willingness to cleanse you or do you have some hesitancy?
  • Have you experienced the immediacy of Jesus answering your cries to him?

I recently read an inspiring book called A Night Out with the Boys by Haydn Davies. It tells the story of a talented schoolboy footballer who, at the age of 16, was representing Wales at under-21 level. His promising career came to a complete standstill when, after a night out with his pals, he was involved in a serious car accident. Two of his friends died and he suffered life-changing injuries.

Haydn did not receive miraculous healing from his injuries and his football playing days were over. However, a few years later, his life was turned around when he encountered Jesus. He became a Christian and he could not help telling people the difference Jesus had made to his life. Surely this was a natural reaction, the reaction of everyone whose life is transformed by Jesus.

In our study passage, however, Jesus warns the man not to tell anyone. This was not some polite ‘please don’t mention this to anyone’. The words translated for us as ‘strong warning’ were seemingly even stronger in the original Greek – it was an insistence that this would need to remain a secret between them.

Pause and reflect

  • Have you ever asked someone to keep a secret?
  • Have you then found out that the secret wasn’t kept?
  • How did this make you feel?

Of course, there were formalities to be gone through. Yes, the Law demanded that, for the man to be treated by society as clean, he had to present himself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that the Law required. But other than this formality, he was not to announce this breaking in of the Kingdom into his life. It seems strange that this appears to contradict what Jesus himself had declared just a few verses earlier: ‘The time has come. The Kingdom of God has come near’ (v15).

I suspect that this man was so overjoyed with what had happened that he simply couldn’t keep it to himself. I understand that there were very good reasons for Jesus’ insistence on keeping this quiet. His time had not yet come, and his challenge to the Temple authorities was to see its fulfilment in a few short years. There was still teaching to be done, and other signs of the Kingdom of God to be made manifest, but the healed man couldn’t help but tell of the amazing thing that God had done through Jesus.

Pause and reflect

  • How will you share something of the good news of God’s Kingdom where you are in the days ahead?

Bible study by

A photo of Steve Dutfield.

Major Steve Dutfield

Divisional Leader, North Scotland Division

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