Jesus was busy ministering to others, healing people, casting out demons, proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom, going from town to town helping whomever he could. He’d spend time in prayer to recharge, often beside himself, going off to a desolate place where he could hear from the Father God, and then he was back showing compassion to others.
And soon into Jesus’ ministry, a leper caught wind of this Jesus who seemed to have a direct connection to God and a passion for helping others. As far as the leper was concerned, this might be the only time in his life he’d ever have the chance for healing. So he worked up the courage to go beg Jesus for healing, falling desperately on his knees before the Messiah.
It was a pretty big deal. The leper was worse than a nobody. At least as a nobody you could blend in with society. But not a leper. There was no blending in with society because you were cast out of society and if you did head towards town, you had to cover your face and shout unclean to anyone you crossed paths with.
This disease wasn’t just physically debilitating. It would eat at your very soul. You were on your own to deal with it. No one wanted to be around you because it could make you religiously unclean and people had grown accustom to the idea that zealous dedication to the letter of the law was more important than anything else, even though everyone constantly failed at it. Religious sacrifice had become more important than compassionate mercy on others and as far as this leper was concerned, all had been lost.
But for Jesus, this leper wasn’t someone to be avoided. This leper wasn’t someone who would break his relationship with the Father. Jesus does the unthinkable to the leper. He doesn’t just talk to him, he actually lays his hands on him, healing him of his disease. You could say the people would have been more shocked that Jesus broke the letter of the law by putting a hand on the leper than they would have been by a man who had no chance of being recovery suddenly being healed.
Another way to put it, as far as the religious elite were concerned, Jesus broke the letter of the law. But as far as God is concerned, Jesus kept the spirit of the law. The Law of Love, Compassion, will always outweigh the letter of the law. It’s a hallmark of Jesus’ ministry to others.
And the leper that day, Jesus told him not to tell anyone else, other than reporting his healing to the priest. You’ve got to wonder if what Jesus told the leper was all in jest because the leper couldn’t keep his mouth shut. He couldn’t help but go and tell everyone what Jesus had done for him. It’s as if Jesus infected the leper with something way more contagious than leprosy. Jesus had infected him with hope that leads to love.
Every story can be broken down into a few parts. The setting, where the story takes place and why it might be important. The characters and their emotions and thoughts invested in the story. A tension that needs resolved. A resolution that brings us through the tension, and a through line (aka main idea) that carries the story through from beginning to end.
The Setting Jesus has traveled to Capernaum with his disciples where he immediately begins teaching in the synagogues. He doesn’t teach as the scribes, but teaches as one with authority, who’s teaching actually begins to influence the people. He’s teaching the people, casting out demons, healing the sick, and preaching the good news. In the midst of all this work, scripture records an important detail in Mark 1:35. He took the time to get up early, go out to a silent place, and pray. The work of Jesus doesn’t exist outside of prayer. The leper who approached Jesus is of particular significance (see the tension).
- Jesus – busy healing, ministering, being filled with compassion and prayer.
- Disciples – traveling with Jesus, learning to follow
- People – sick, demon possessed, influenced by Jesus’ teaching, in need of compassion
- The Authorities – Whose dedication to the law often overpowered their compassion towards people.
The Tension Jesus is busy at work, ministering to those he came across, and taking time for prayer. Someone looked down upon by society, someone unclean, a leper, comes to Jesus when they couldn’t come to anyone else.
The Resolution Jesus is filled with compassion and heals the leper despite religious law. Jesus heals the leper, making him right by the religious law, but he gives him something so much more than being right by “societies standards.” He gives him hope so contagious that he can’t keep it to himself.
The Through Line Compassion and prayer are the hallmarks of Jesus’ ministry, not over-zealous dedication to religious law.
Why has this story endured? Jesus turned religious societal norms upside down and he would still do that same today. Religion had become about sacrifice, not mercy, and that’s been the mistake all along. Jesus demonstrates this by how he has compassion on the leper who is religiously unclean. There are still quote un-quote religious lepers today and Jesus has as much compassion on them today, even when his followers and religious people don’t.
What is true for them then that is still true for us today? Compassion trumps religious dedication. We can pray, study scripture, attend church every day, make many sacrifices in life, but if we don’t show compassion, we’re nothing more than religious oppressors who crush others with our religiosity.
How does this story help us love God? Loving God isn’t about getting everything right. It certainly is about our obedience, but obedience shaped under the umbrella of compassion.
How does this story help us love others? Loving others isn’t about getting others to do all the right things. Helping others to follow God’s way will lead to life for them, but loving others isn’t about force or castigation when others mess up. It’s about extending compassion even when society would direct us the other way.