When Jesus begins calling disciples he does not call those who believe they are righteous, he calls sinners instead. In this chapter, we will learn a lot about the attitude we need in order to be put right with God.
12 While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 13 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him. 14 And he charged him to tell no one, but “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”
The leprous man expressed his faith by coming to Jesus and falling on his face before him. In response, Jesus reached out his hand to touch him. Normally this was prohibited because anyone touching a leper would become unclean. In this case, the opposite happens, the leper becomes clean. Christ’s ability to cleanse the leper was greater than any power the leprosy had to make Christ unclean.
Then Jesus sent him to the priest. There was an offering specified for those cases in which a leper was cured, by which the priest would declare him clean. The biblical definition of leprosy seems to have been broader than ours, so we need not conclude that people were constantly being healed what of we would call Hansen’s disease today. The offering, however, is instructive for us regarding the cleansing work of Christ. We find it in Leviticus 14:3-7.
3 …Then, if the case of leprous disease is healed in the leprous person, 4 the priest shall command them to take for him who is to be cleansed two live clean birds … 5 And the priest shall command them to kill one of the birds in an earthenware vessel over fresh water. 6 He shall take the live bird …, and dip … the live bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water. 7 And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed of the leprous disease. Then he shall pronounce him clean and shall let the living bird go into the open field.
It’s a fascinating parallel. One bird is killed, the other is dipped in the slain bird’s blood and then released. As Cyril of Alexandria once said it,
We may see then, in the birds, Christ suffering in the flesh according to the Scriptures … That the one bird was slain, and that the other was baptized indeed in its blood, while itself exempt from slaughter … For Christ died in our place, and we, who have been baptized into his death, he has saved by his own blood. *
Each of us is a lot like this leper. We are unclean because of our sin. Jesus touches us, but never becomes unclean or sinful himself; he makes us clean instead. Christ’s ability to cleanse us is greater than the power of sin, by which we make ourselves unclean.
* Found in Arthur A. Just Jr., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003, 91.
On the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, Kenny Washington takes us through Mark 15.
Dear Father in heaven,
What can we ever say or do to thank you for your great love for us? In truth, we can never repay you, and can never match Christ’s sacrifice, which was offered for our sins.
The best we can do is give you our lives, our abilities and our possessions and ask you to use us to accomplish your will.
Help us to express complete obedience to you without relying on ourselves.
Like the woman in the story of the fragrant ointment, help us to offer you all that we have.
Like Jesus in the garden, help us to see that your will for us is better than our own will, whatever that may be.
Help us to live our the words, “Thy will be done.”
In Christ our Lord,
15 So they came to Jerusalem. Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 16 And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple. 17 Then He taught, saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ ”
In the week leading up to his crucifixion, Jesus went up on the Temple Mount and was upset by what he saw. Money changers and those selling animals for sacrifice were taking advantage of a captive crowd.
Both law and custom dictated that Jewish travelers would make their way to Jerusalem for certain holidays. Passover was one of those. The “Next year in Jerusalem” wish goes back to ancient times.
In those days, when there was a temple, people coming from far away would have to buy their sacrifices on site. Who, after all, was about to travel with their doves or lambs that great distance? The new arrival had to exchange currency, likely at a bad rate, as is still the case today with money changers. They then used these newly acquired local coins to buy their sacrifice, likely at an inflated price since demand was high.
Jesus calls them out for their unfair practices and presumptive sense that everything would always be okay. That presumption might have been expressed in thoughts like, “Don’t we have the temple of the one true God in our midst?” or “Aren’t we favored above all cities and all nations here in Jerusalem?”
We should ask ourselves in what ways we might be exhibiting a similar overconfidence. Have we or our church become wealthy, hindering simple trust in the Lord? Are we proud of our doctrine, imagining ourselves to be the purest church on planet earth? Has any spiritual accomplishment taken the place of humility and utter dependence on God’s grace?
It happens. It happened repeatedly the nation of Israel throughout its history and it happens to God’s people today. Think of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, or the scandals of celebrity preachers in modern America. May we always seek to serve God in complete obedience, in full reliance upon his ability, mercy and revealed truth to make us whole.
Most Christians and many others are familiar with the story of the Rich Young Ruler, which, by the way, takes data from the combined Gospels to know these things (rich, young, a ruler) about him. Here it is from the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 10.
17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
The man was obviously religious. He was certainly concerned about the state of his soul and his standing before God, but his commitment also had its limits. This fellow, by his own assessment, is not guilty of anything scandalous at all. Jesus does not argue will that. Christ does, however, point out that there is that one thing, his possessions, that are standing in the way of this man and eternal life. His stuff had become his idol.
Based on this story alone, it would be going too far to say that wealth is a problem for everyone or that it is always a problem wherever it is found. It certainly can be, though, so it makes a good place for us to start in assessing ourselves. Even poor people can be covetous and overly tied to their belongings. For rich people the temptation is even worse.
Once we look at the areas of wealth and covetousness, we might actually determine that areas like these are not our biggest besetting sins. Maybe we are truly generous. Maybe riches are not, for us, an idol. Fine, but maybe something still is.
The thing that impresses me most about this encounter of a random inquirer and Jesus is Christ’s ability to see beyond his generally high level of obedience to the commandments of God. OK, so maybe he is no thief, murderer, adulterer or deceiver in any major way. But maybe there is something else. His riches, perhaps? There is no commandment against owning stuff, only commandments not to be covetous or greedy and to be generous in considering the poor, etc.
It’s not a simple rubric to use in giving ourselves a grade. I my give regularly, but do I give enough? I guess I want this thing or that, but is that covetousness or just a reasonable desire? How am I supposed to know? We may not know for sure, but in the case in question, Jesus did. He pointed out to the man that one thing and it happened to be his possessions.
Perhaps for us there is also that one thing. Maybe the right question to ask is, “If God asked me to give up anything, is there some request that would cause me to say no?” Or worded differently, “Is there something Jesus might ask me to sacrifice that would so dishearten me that I would go away sorrowful rather than throw the thing away?” If there is, we are in the same position as this man in the story.
Any relationship, possession or position that I might consider more important than Jesus is probably my real god, my dead, debilitating idol. As we know, God hates idols. Therefore, so should we.