The man Jesus cured… then drove away.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 July

Just because he cured you, doesn’t mean he anointed you.

Mark 1.40-45 • Matthew 8.1-4 • Luke 5.12-16

You know that saying, “No good deed goes unpunished”? Here we see it slam right into Jesus.

In Mark it’s after Jesus started traveling the Galilee preaching the gospel; Luke it’s while Jesus is in one of the towns; Matthew it’s immediately after the Sermon on the Mount, and doesn’t include the problematic ending I’m talking about.

Initially it looks just like another case of faith-healing. A man approached Jesus, suffering from chara’át, the catch-all term the bible uses for infection—whether skin diseases, or the rot we find in clothing or buildings. Lv 13-14 If we’re talking skin conditions, Leviticus describes more than one. A spreading white spot on the skin; or a raw spot more than skin-deep; an open sore with yellow or white hairs round it. Lv 13.3-4, 10, 19 It lists symptoms, but doesn’t nail down any one disease. Really it could be all sorts of diseases: Eczema, skin cancer, even a lack of pigment. (Though Leviticus makes clear that if the white skin covered your entire body, and you had no raw skin, you didn’t have chara’át. Good thing for me. I’m awfully white.)

The translators of the Septuagint simply called it lépros/“leprosy,” and so do the writers of the New Testament. But it’s not actually leprosy (i.e. Hansen’s disease). Leprosy isn’t contagious. It causes one’s extremities to go numb, and if you aren’t careful with your numb hands and feet, that’s how you wind up with sores. Chara’át was definitely contagious, which is why the scripture ordered its sufferers to wear shabby clothing and messy hair, cover their mouth, stay outside cities, keep their distance and live alone, and shout “Unclean!” whenever anyone came near. Lv 13.45-46

No, they weren’t necessarily dirty. They were ritually unclean. They were prohibited from worship, lest they spread their disease. The word we translate “leper,” chará, also means “to whip.” It gave people the idea God was doing the whipping. Maybe cause of something you did.

Contrary to those folks with a warped view of God’s sovereignty, who see all disease as an “act of God,” nature works independently of God. He doesn’t smite people with it, just so he can show off his almighty ability to cure it. Rarely does he use disease to punish people. More often he’s fighting it, same as we. Same as Jesus, who wants to cleanse people. Like here.

Mark 1.40-42 KWL
40 An infectious man came to Jesus, begging him on his knees,
telling him this: “If you want, you can cleanse me!”
41 Sympathetically extending his hand, Jesus touched him and told him,
“I want. Be cleansed”42 and next the infection went away. He was cleansed.
Matthew 8.1-3 KWL
1 Great crowds followed Jesus as he came down the hill.
2 Look: An approaching infectious man begged Jesus,
saying, “Master, if you want, you can cleanse me!”
3 Extending his hand, Jesus touched him, saying,
“I want. Be cleansed”—and next the infectious man was cleansed.
Luke 5.12-13 KWL
12 This happened while Jesus was in one of the towns:
Look, a man covered in infection. On seeing Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him,
saying, “Master, if you want, you can cleanse me!”
13 Extending his hand, Jesus touched him, saying,
“I want. Be cleansed”—and next the infection went away.

Jesus, who absolutely knows the Father’s will, who shares the Father’s character, was sympathetic towards this man. Mk 1.41 Not dismissive: “I don’t want. You’re a sinner and deserve your suffering. Really, you deserve worse.” In all three gospels, the infectious man correctly kept his distance, but Jesus extended his hand—bridged that gap between he and the man—and touched him. And cured him.

A touch of Jesus.

A lot of folks make a big deal about Jesus touching the man. Typically they note two things, and both are wrong.

Jesus is super-clean. First is the idea Jesus didn’t make himself ritually unclean by touching an unclean person. Ordinarily that’s what happens: Touch something unclean, and you’re unclean. Doesn’t matter if you didn’t know you’d done it; you’re unclean. Lv 5.2 But these folks claim the whole clean/unclean situation doesn’t apply to Jesus. By being sinless, He 4.15 he’s super-clean. Touching the unclean doesn’t make Jesus unclean; it makes the unclean clean.

This reasoning is based on the flawed idea the rules don’t apply to Jesus.

’Cause he’s Jesus. They figure he’s super-clean for the same reason he’s sinless: He defines what’s good and evil, he defines what’s clean and unclean. If he does it, by definition it’s not sin, by definition it’s clean. So when he touches unclean people, take it for granted he stays clean—and now they’re clean too.

This isn’t a biblical idea. It’s actually the idea might makes right: The rules don’t apply to Jesus because he’s almighty. He made ’em; he can unmake ’em. He could even do something we’d ordinarily call despicable evil—but because he’s Jesus, it’s okay. It’s his prerogative to redefine morality whenever he wants. It’s moral relativism, but Jesus is doing it, so that makes it okay. (And the reason Christians adopt this idea? ’Cause they wanna be able to practice a little moral relativism themselves—and if Jesus does it, why can’t they?) So that’s how they teach God’s sovereignty works.

Like I said, it’s not biblical. Jesus was born under the Law. Ga 4.4 The Law defines what’s good and evil, what’s righteous and what’s sin. Ro 3.20 It’s why Jesus upheld the Law. Mt 5.7 If he didn’t, he’d have sinned.

Okay, technically Jesus does set the standard for what’s good and evil, ’cause the Law was his idea. He handed down its commands from Mt. Sinai. (I know; you’re thinking the LORD did that, not Jesus. Well, Jesus is God; the LORD is God; and there’s only one God. It’s really not that confusing.) But once he defined the standard, he stuck to it. He didn’t rejigger it whenever it became inconvenient, or got too hard.

And part of the Law is the whole clean/unclean situation. Which Jesus found himself obligated to deal with as well. Jesus isn’t just God: He’s human, and human life has unclean things in it. We get dirty. We touch dirty people. We touch dead animals, or bleed, or have bodily discharges. So we gotta wash. These things, plus others, the Law declared ritually unclean, because being physically clean represents how we should be spiritually clean in God’s presence. It’s a sacrament. (Plus it had the side effect of not spreading communicable diseases when people went to temple.)

So Jesus followed the cleanliness rules as God intended. Just not as the Pharisees intended, which is why they debated the subject from time to time. Jesus was clean enough; clean enough for synagogue, anyway. Pharisees overdid it.

In touching the infectious man, Jesus rendered himself unclean. All that meant was he had to bathe himself, and couldn’t go to synagogue till the next day. Big deal. Small price to pay to heal someone.

The profundity of human contact. Second is the fact that infectious people were forbidden contact with anyone. Thus, preachers claim, this poor man had likely been deprived of human contact for years. So Jesus touching him was especially meaningful.

Okay yes: If you were infected as the scriptures defined chara’át, you weren’t supposed to touch clean people, lest you make ’em unclean, or infect them. And technically you weren’t to touch other infectious people. Remember, there’s more than one kind of chara’át: You don’t wanna give someone a second disease, on the grounds you’re both “lepers” so it’s okay to touch one another.

But infectious people were often seen in the company of other infectious people. 2Ki 7.3, Lk 17.12 Sometimes for company, sometimes convenience or safety. Though they weren’t supposed to touch one another, they would and did.

Further, “years”? We have no idea how long this man had been suffering. Could be years—but if it was a spreading condition, he wouldn’t have years before it killed him. Could’ve been a really recent diagnosis.

So we can’t say Jesus’s touch was the first human contact this man had experienced in years. It’s dramatic, but it’s unprovable.

Then… Jesus turned on him?

Here’s the part which strikes me, and a whole lot of other folks, as odd. So odd, Matthew and Luke didn’t really include it in their gospels. It’s how Jesus suddenly got emvrimisámenon/“harshly disapproving in speech” with the man. Mk 1.43 Some translators try to tone it down by just calling it “a strong warning.” (NIV) But literally it means “snorting,” like an angry horse—or an angry Lord. You know, in the Old Testament, whenever God was hot with anger, Nu 11.10 the scriptures literally said yikhar-af YHWH/“the LORD’s nostril burned.”

Mark 1.43-44 KWL
43 But agitated by him, Jesus next came to throw him out,
44 and told him, “Make sure you say nothing to no one! Go away!
Show yourself to the priests. Bring for your offering what Moses commanded, as your testimony.”
Matthew 8.4 KWL
Jesus told him, “Make sure you say nothing, but go away.
Show yourself to the priests. Bring the gift Moses commanded, as your testimony.”
Luke 5.14 KWL
Jesus commanded him to say nothing,
but “Go show the priests. Bring for your offering as Moses commanded, as your testimony.”

Something the guy did pissed Jesus off. No, I don’t know what it was. Neither do you.

But since we’re gonna speculate, I’d say a reasonable assumption is it has to do with all the things Jesus ordered him to do as he sent him away. I’ll jumble the order a bit, as my interpretation makes more sense that way.

“Show yourself to the priests.” God had assigned his priests the duty of identifying people and things as clean or unclean. Technically you weren’t clean till a priest declared it.

No, you didn’t have to go all the way to Jerusalem to find a priest. Any descendant of Levi ben Jacob was a priest, and they lived all over Israel. Particularly in cities.

Problem was, the cured man had no intention of visiting the priest. Though he used the words “make me clean” to get Jesus’s sympathy, to his mind clean just meant free of his infection. Didn’t matter whether a priest declared him clean or not. He decided whether he was clean or not.

Nope, we’re not talking about a devout Jew or Pharisee. This man was likely an irreligious Jew; someone who didn’t bother to follow God in the way his ancestors did, but did things his own way. Basically what we Christians would call a pagan—though he likely imagined himself a Jew or Pharisee, much like irreligious pagans who kinda like Jesus will fancy themselves Christians.

Why would such a person turn to Jesus? Pure pragmatism. He wanted to get cured, and he knew Jesus could cure him. Now, as for actually following Jesus and obeying the Father… meh. He only wanted to get cured.

Yeah, a lot of us would-be Christians are jerks like this. We want Jesus to free us of all our problems. But following him afterward?—nah. We want salvation, but phooey on the kingdom. We’re ingrates.

“Bring… what Moses commanded.” Once your infection cleared up, God instructed the following ritual in the Law. It’s a little weird, but really symbolic.

  • Have the priest take you outside and double-check that you’re clean. Lv 14.2-3
  • Kill a bird; empty its blood into a clay jar full of water. Lv 14.5
  • Dip a live bird (and some other items) in the bloody water; turn the bird loose in a field. Lv 14.6-7
  • Get sprinkled by the priest seven times with the bloody water, after which he’ll declare you clean. Lv 14.7
  • Wash your clothes and shave off all your hair. (All of it. Eyebrows too.) Bathe. Then live outside your tent or house for a week. Lv 14.8
  • End of the week: Shave your head again. Bathe. Lv 14.9
  • Next day: Sacrifice two male lambs, one female lamb, a grain offering, and an oil offering. Lv 14.10-13 The priest will dip and sprinkle some of the blood and oil on you. Lv 14.14-18 Now you’re officially clean. Eat the lambs in celebration.
  • Can’t afford lambs? Substitute pigeons. Lv 14.30 (Pigeons are free—but you gotta catch ’em.)

Aren’t you glad Jesus’s atonement supersedes ritual offerings, and the Holy Spirit’s indwelling supersedes ritual cleanliness?

But even though we don’t need to do these things anymore, they’re the proper procedure for those who live under the Law. Problem was, the cured man didn’t care about the Law.

Maybe he was bitter at God about his infection. Maybe bitter at the priests for declaring him unclean. Maybe he never did follow the Law, and the only reason he was identifiable as an unclean, infected person was because he only stuck to customs, like your typical Christianist. Either way, he wasn’t doing this.

This, Jesus explained, was his testimony. But the man didn’t want his actions to be his testimony. Just his words.

“Make sure you say nothing.” The man wanted to share Jesus! With everyone! Isn’t that great?

Well… it all depends on what he intended to share about Jesus.

It wasn’t “for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son,” since we tend to proclaim Jesus that way, but the gospel as Jesus preached it was the good news of God’s kingdom. Mk 1.15 Still, I’m pretty sure that’s not the gospel this newly-cured man had in mind either.

More like, “Hey, check me out! I used to have an infection, and now I don’t! Jesus the Nazarene cured me! Follow him; he’s the Messiah! He’s gonna throw out the Romans!”

Nothing about God’s kingdom in there. It’s not the gospel. “Prosperity gospel” maybe, but not what Jesus was teaching.

And not from the best witness Jesus could’ve picked: A man who didn’t care to visit the priests, didn’t care to follow the Law, didn’t care about anything but his own well-being. Yeah, Jesus can work with such people (and has), but usually they make some nudges towards sorta-kinda-not-really following Jesus. This guy didn’t even bother to obey our Lord. So Jesus didn’t want him on his team. Just the opposite.

“Go away.” The one command this guy did obey. Not that it helped Jesus’s cause any. The man immediately went forth and preached his gospel, not Jesus’s.

Mark 1.45 KWL
But as he went out, he began to preach many things, and spread the word.
It got so Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but stayed outside in wild places.
People came to him from all over.
Luke 5.15-16 KWL
15 Instead, the word about Jesus still got out,
and many crowds came together to hear, and be cured of their illnesses.
16 Withdrawing, he was in the wilds, praying.

Misreading Jesus’s motives.

Like I said, certain translations tone down what happened and make it sound like Jesus did nothing more than strictly warn the man to be quiet. Because God forbid word got out Jesus could heal!

Which is a dumb interpretation. What was Jesus doing all over the Galilee? Preaching the gospel, and healing. Throwing out demons. Mk 1.39 Curing anything people brought him. Mt 4.23-24 He’d just cured everyone in his hometown; now he wanted people to be quiet about it? That’d make Jesus sound stupid, and any interpretation which makes Jesus out to be chowderheaded should automatically be dismissed. Otherwise we’re the chowderheads.

I’ve also heard people claim Jesus was practicing a bit of reverse psychology: He told the man, “Shut up and say nothing,” knowing it’d provoke the man to blab everywhere, and raise Jesus’s profile. Since this interpretation turns Jesus into a hypocrite, I needn’t discuss it further.

Cessationists, who insist God doesn’t do miracles anymore, often teach God turned off the miracle switch ’cause he really didn’t like to do them, back when he did them. Supposedly he wants people to follow him based on faith, not sight: He wants there to be no visible evidence of his activity, forcing us to have to go look for him. (And conveniently, making it so we don’t have to acknowledge anything he does do or say in the present day. Thus we can ignore the Holy Spirit and go right on sinning.)

So when I grew up in a cessationist church, this was the interpretation I regularly heard: Jesus told people to shush about the miracles because, functionally, they embarrassed him. Here he was, supposed to promote faith instead of sight… but people were suffering and he just couldn’t help himself. So he’d sneak ’em off into some dark corner and heal ’em in secret. But shush! Tell no one. Don’t want anyone else to know God’s kingdom has come so near.

I know; it’s an obvious contradiction. But people have no problem embracing illogical interpretations when they make it so easy to ignore God.

The reality is, when Jesus told people to be quiet about his miracles, it was usually because he didn’t want these people to proclaim him. They were bad witnesses. We’re talking fruitless, self-centered people. The only change in ’em was Jesus had cured them, but their hearts were just as hard, their lives just as sinful. Jesus loves everybody, and the reason he cured ’em was he had compassion on them too. But healing is not anointing. He didn’t make ’em evangelists! They weren’t any better than the demons he regularly silenced. Lk 4.41 To some degree they were even worse. Most of us know better than to listen to demons. Not so much with these would-be preachers.

See, in the hands of such evangelists, the teachings of Jesus get ignored, twisted, or not taught at all. The kingdom of heaven gets shortened to “heaven,” get pushed out of the present day, and gets redefined as pie in the sky when you die, by and by. Jesus isn’t someone to follow; he’s the answer to all your problems, the cure to all your ailments, the savior who gets you out of hell. And yes, he is all those things. But not only those things. He’s Lord. That means we gotta follow him. We gotta obey. We gotta pattern our lives after him. We gotta take hold of his power and minister to others. We gotta change.

We got a lot of these self-centered evangelists running amok. It’s why we’ve also got a lot of self-described Christians who won’t obey, change, or follow. Jesus doesn’t want such “followers,” nor such “evangelists.” Arguably they’re not even Christian: They still need to repent, same as everyone else. But despite being wrong, they think they’re righteous—which makes it all the harder to introduce them to the concept of Christian humility. And, for that matter, Christ himself.