5 January 2016

Mark 1:40-45 (Jesus cleanses a leper)

“A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’” (vv. 40-41)

Psalm: Psalm 3


This passage contains my favourite Greek word, 'splanchniztheis' (verse 41). The translation we have here is 'moved with pity' but more literally it would be, 'gut-wrenched' because the word comes from the Greek for intestines. I like the word because it shows us something of the character of God. God-in-Christ is viscerally moved by the kind of physical suffering, social isolation and religious stigmatisation that he witnesses in the life of the leper before him. God chooses to be made flesh in order to feel in God's own guts what human suffering is.

It is perhaps some comfort when we experience suffering - whether its physical or caused by social isolation or religious prejudice - to know that God-in-Christ knows what that is and is moved by our plight. Verse 41 goes on to say more than this about the character of God, though. Not only is God moved by human suffering, he also addresses it, "If you choose, you can make me clean," says the leper. "I do choose. Be made clean!" says Jesus.

The belief that God is moved by human suffering and wants to alleviate it commissions Christians who minister in Christ's name to do what we can to help those who are suffering (whether in physical pain or through social conditions like poverty) or those who are persecuted and discriminated against as subhuman or unclean. The belief that God chooses to alleviate human suffering, does though, raise difficult questions about why God seems to choose to heal some and not others.

There are no simple answers to this question. It is not that something in the life of the person who is not physically healed is necessarily the reason that healing doesn't happen or that those who suffer have brought it on themselves. Jesus, himself, recognised complexity in this area: "those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them - do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?" (Luke 13:4). Yet, despite the fact that not everyone who asks is healed, Christians still maintain that healing and the alleviation of suffering, as revealed here in Jesus' response to the leper, is God's intention for the world.

To Ponder

  • Who do you think in the world today are considered unclean and suffer the kind of isolation and discrimination that leprosy represents here?
  • Are you convinced that God desires the alleviation of the world's suffering? What convinces you?
  • How do you interpret the fact that much human suffering is not alleviated and many people who pray for healing still live with chronic and acute physical and social conditions?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jane Leach

Jane writes on ministry, pastoral supervision and pilgrimage..