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An Emotional Jesus
Mark 1:35-45 3-7-21
Introduction to Scripture Reading
There’s a puzzling issue that pops up in the Gospel of Mark that comes to the fore in today’s account of Jesus healing a leper.
This is early in Jesus’ ministry and he is confronting demons and healing various ailments.
A demon had snarled that he knows Jesus as “The Holy One of God” but Jesus demands that he shut-up about that.
After he heals people, he orders them to keep quiet about what he did.
At the turn of the 19th Century, a German scholar labeled this the “Messianic Secret” and scholars have debated its meaning for years.
Some concluded that Jesus didn’t actually make those statements at all –that they were added later to justify early Christians’ attempts to stay safe by being secretive about their faith.
Since Mark’s original audience was Christians being terrorized, tortured, and murdered by Rome, and since the core of Mark’s original message is to encourage people to be open and strong in their faith, maybe later editors did want to soften his message.
That way, early Christians could rationalize being secretive about their faith – just like Jesus during the early stages of his ministry.
After all, being a Christian might send you to the lions’ den or worse.
And, certainly, a lot of what we read as the Gospels today is the result of additions and editing through the years.
Other scholars said that the Messianic Secret is evidence of the historic Jesus becoming more aware of this messiahship as he proceeded with his ministry.
In other words, early on he was not ready to fully recognize the extent of his call and so he didn’t want over-inflated claims made about him to circulate.
And there are other theories as well.
What do you think?
Why would Jesus make a point of telling the leper in today’s passage – and make similar demands on people and demons in future passages – to keep this miracle a secret?
We’ll consider the most likely reason in today’s message … but maybe you have a different insight.
That’s part of the power of the gospels – they leave us with questions to serve as markers along our individual journey with Jesus.
Put yourself into the sandals of those people in Galilee when this rabbi who was just making a name for himself appeared in your town and audaciously proclaimed:
Mark 1:15 The time has come. The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the Good News.
Well, what was that supposed to mean?
Chances are you would be a little suspicious of yet another prophet claiming to speak for God – they were a dime a dozen at the time.
And, I’ve got to say, the passage Meredith just read that says Jesus was indignant with the leper kind of muddies the water.
What kind of man-of-God would be so condescending to a sick person?
This Kingdom of God Jesus talked about was hard for people to get their heads around – but we start to understand as we step back to see what Jesus did and therefore what we are called to do as his disciples.
First, in his symbolic first act of public ministry, he confronted the forces of evil by driving-out an unclean spirit from a man in the synagogue at Capernaum.
You want to follow Jesus?
Then you, too, are to stand against the dark powers and principalities of corruption, prejudice and injustice.
Next, we saw Jesus heal Peter’s mother-in-law of her fever and thereby free her to resume her position of respect and service in her household.
In the Kingdom, we are blessed so that we can serve and be a blessing to others.
Then, after Jesus healed crowds of people, we saw that he needed to withdraw to a quiet place to reconnect with his Father in prayer.
If Jesus, the Son of God, needed to take time away from the day’s demands to pray, then how much more do we need to do the same?
Today’s short passage has troubled believers and scriptural translators alike.
Let’s read from the Common English Version:
Mark 1:40-42 A man with a skin disease approached Jesus, fell to his knees, and begged, “If you want, you can make me clean.” Incensed, Jesus reached out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do want to. Be clean.” Instantly, the skin disease left him, and he was clean.
Mark did not originally say that the man fell to his knees, but centuries later that phrase was added, possibly to emphasize that the poor man humbled himself to the authority of Jesus.
Be that as it may, it also highlights to us a point that we might otherwise miss, and that is that throughout the gospel of Mark, Jesus does not seek-out people to heal; in almost every case they come to him – sometimes begging to be healed.
Why does that matter?
Well, it matters because it clarifies just how Jesus understood his primary mission, and that then leads to what has been a problem.
What verb best describes Jesus’ attitude about this request for healing?
Some modern translations use phrases like “deeply moved” or “moved by compassion” Jesus healed the man.
But the verb that this Common English Version translates as “incensed” is more accurate and gives better nuance to Jesus’ feelings.
One translation goes so far as to translate this as, and becoming angry Jesus healed the man.
Jesus was incensed, angry – maybe cranky – and yet compassionate in this encounter.
Incensed about what?
Was Jesus just ticked-off at being pestered with yet another appeal for healing?
Was Jesus incensed at how the Levitical laws degraded and isolated people from their family and community?
Or, was Jesus incensed at the political systems that kept certain populations in poverty?
It may have been some of all the above.
We may be uncomfortable with Jesus having such intense feelings, but I find that they make the whole gospel more compelling and Jesus more real.
Jesus expresses a full range of emotions in Mark’s Gospel.
Clearly, Jesus was moved by compassion for the suffering of this man – after all, he did heal him.
Jesus may also have been tired, frustrated, anxious – all the more, then, did he demonstrate love when he gave time and energy to heal the man.
If we are to follow Jesus, then we, too, are called to be caring and do our ministry, even at times when we just don’t feel like it.
See why it is important to not domesticate Jesus, to not make him “Jesus, meek and mild”?
When we let the original voice of Mark speak, we learn that, early on, Jesus was becoming wary of his fame and troubled by the distractions brought by the endless demands of the ever-growing crowds.
Jesus had stepped into a world where the needs were enormous.
As word of Jesus spread, people flooded from all over the region
– but at best his miracles were only stopgap measures because everyone he healed would eventually fall victim to another disease.
As compassionate as it was to heal these people, Mark’s passage here reminds us that Jesus’ ultimate ministry was about something more, and so Jesus did not want to get labeled as just a miracle worker.
In fact, one of the reasons that Jesus may have asked this man not to spread the word of his healing was because he wanted to get on with his real mission, a mission that will not become clear to readers until chapter 16.
So, Mark continues, (1:43-44) Sternly, Jesus sent him away, saying, “Don’t say anything to anyone.”
Lest there be any doubt about Jesus’ emotions in this scene, Jesus doesn’t just ask the man not to tell about the healing,
he sternly orders him away.
Actually, that word “sternly” is more literally translated as “snorted” or something similar that would express distaste or contempt.
A good rendition of this verse might be, Jesus snorted at the man and ordered him away saying, “Don’t you dare tell anyone about this.”
You can now see why, over the years, believers have softened their translations of some of Jesus’ encounters.
We are more comfortable with a soft-spoken, even-tempered Jesus.
But Mark remembers that Jesus – in addition to feeling compassion – was infuriated at all the needless suffering inflicted by sin and evil.
People have long puzzled about the mysterious “Messianic secret” passages.
These are passages where Jesus commands both people and demons not to share who he is or what he has done.
If Jesus wanted to spread the Good News, why would he ask people to be silent about what he had done?
Anyone who gathered crowds risked making the powers-that-be very nervous indeed.
We know from the fate of John the Baptist that rallying crowds – even in the desolate area south of Galilee – was a dangerous thing.
So, incidents like when the demon publicly called Jesus (1:24) the Holy One of God were not only dangerous, they also threatened his ultimate mission which was to travel freely teaching the Good News before enduring his sacrifice on Calvary.
But in today’s passage, the former leper couldn’t contain himself and he began telling anyone who would listen what Jesus had done for him.
Mark 1:45a Instead, he went out and started talking freely and spreading the news so that Jesus wasn’t able to enter a town openly.
His disobedience to Jesus’ command made it impossible for Jesus to go openly into the towns of Galilee.
Now the crowds became so overwhelming and the consequences of their gathering so threatening that Jesus could no longer travel freely.
Now, do you see the surprising reversal that has taken place?
The leper (who had not been free to see his family or to even enter his village) now returns to his community and his role in life.
Jesus, on the other hand, had generously healed the man but now is unable to safely enter a village and is limited in his role in life.
Mark 1:45b He remained outside in (lonely), deserted places, but people came to him from everywhere.
This passage opens with the leper saying, “If you are willing you can heal me”.
Jesus says he is willing, but from the beginning he knows that his act of compassion will have a cost.
Love always costs.
But to show people the Kingdom of God, Jesus must go to where the people are, and he must show them the power and the willingness of God to bring Shalom – wholeness and peace – and for God to pay the price.
In this passage, Jesus foreshadows what it will cost.
Jesus will use the language of “willing” again in Mark 14:36, where he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane surrendering his own desires for what the Father “wills.”
Mark has shown us a Jesus able and willing to heal the sick, exorcise demons, proclaim the ways of God’s Kingdom, while fully mindful of the costs.
Out of the purest love, Jesus ultimately completed his earthly mission by giving his very life for you so that you, too, can enter a life now and an eternity to come as a blessed child of God.