30 December 2018

Jesus has Authority over Ritual Impurity

The Shepherd
The term “leprosy” was fluid in Christ’s day and could refer to a number of different skin ailments. An old rabbinic adage claimed the healing of leprosy was as difficult as raising the dead.
      A leper was ritually unclean per the Mosaic Law and excluded him from the covenant community, social and religious life of Israel. A leper was required to maintain a repugnant appearance to be recognizable, to stay at least fifty paces from others, and to announce audibly his presence (Leviticus 13:44-46; Numbers 5:l-3; 6:9; 19:13). Leprosy was a disease, a sentence of banishment and eventually death.

(Mark 1:40-45) - “And there cometh unto him, a leper, beseeching him and kneeling, -saying unto him—|If thou be willing| thou canst cleanse me; And |moved with compassion| he stretched forth the hand, and touched him, and saith unto him—I am willing, Be cleansed! And |straightway| the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed; and ||strictly charging him|| |straightway| he urged him forth; and saith unto him—Mind! ||unto no one|| say |aught|—but withdraw ||thyself|| show unto the priest, and offer for thy cleansing what things Moses enjoined |for a witness unto them|. But |he| going forth, began to be proclaiming many things, and blazing abroad the story, so that |no longer| was it possible for him ||openly|| into a city |to enter|—but |outside in desert places| was he, and they were coming unto him from every quarter.” [Citation from the Emphasized Bible]
    The term “leprosy” was fluid in Christ’s day and could refer to a number of different skin ailments. An old rabbinic adage claimed the healing of leprosy was as difficult as raising the dead. A leper was ritually unclean per the Mosaic Law and excluded him from the covenant community, social and religious life of Israel. A leper was required to maintain a repugnant appearance to be recognizable, to stay at least fifty paces from others, and to announce audibly his presence (Leviticus 13:44-46; Numbers 5:l-3; 6:9; 19:13). Leprosy was a disease, a sentence of banishment and eventually death.
     Mark states that Jesus “stretched out his hands and touched” the leper, emphasizing this physical action. He took the initiative to reach out and “touch” this ritually defiled person. To touch a leper could render one unclean and consequently unable to participate in religious activities until the uncleanness was remedied according to Levitical regulations.
     Despite the Law’s regulations on leprosy, Jesus was not polluted by this contact.  Instead, his touch “cleansed” the leper. Though Jesus did “heal” him, Mark uses the Greek verb for “cleanse” to emphasize what transpired.  In every way, the man was made whole, physically and spiritually. 
     Jesus honored the Law of Moses, for he told the leper that according to the stipulations of Leviticus he must present himself to a priest for examination.  Obeying this would also serve to reintegrate the now cleansed leper back into Jewish society.  Jesus was concerned not only with his physical health but also with his restoration to the covenant community.
     The verb used for “drove him off” is the same one used when the Spirit of God “drove” Jesus into the wilderness (1:12), and for “casting out or driving off” demons (1:34; 1:39).  This was not cruelty but stressed the necessity to do what Jesus had commanded. Until the leper was declared “clean” by a priestly authority and the appropriate rituals executed, he could not be reintegrated into the religious life of the nation.  There was an urgency to do what Jesus commanded.
     Jesus told the cleansed leper to go to a priest to have his healing confirmed as Moses commanded, then stated it would serve as testimony or “a witness to them.”  Why is the plural used, and why a testimony to the priests (1:44)?  To be declared “clean” the leper needed the ruling of only one priest, so once again, why “them?”
    In the next chapter, Jesus comes into conflict with the Jewish religious authorities, especially those associated with the Temple. That a leper was healed was almost unheard of and acknowledging this miracle would be tantamount to acknowledging that God was visiting Israel in the ministry of Jesus.  This would be a “witness” to the religious leaders with a double-edge.  How would they react to clear evidence God was working in Jesus and that he was the promised Messiah?  To declare the leper “clean” was to acknowledge that God was at work in him.  How could they then turn around and reject Jesus?

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