Our story today is a tender and powerful glimpse into the heart of Jesus for those society despises. The lowest of the low, a leper, comes to Jesus for help. In his time, this man was a true outcast. He was a leper. He would have been forced to live in seclusion, was banned from all public gatherings, including worship services. He had to cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!” whenever he came near anyone, in order to warn them of his diabolical presence. It’s a struggle to think of anyone today who would be looked down upon as much as this man—perhaps a serial pedofile? A rapist? A murderer? And Jesus reached out his hand and tenderly touched him! Jesus had strong compassion for him and wanted the man to be healed and accepted. Today, we struggle to comprehend how much Jesus loved those we hate.
After healing the leper, Jesus commanded him not to tell anyone about the healing. Jesus went so far as to tell the man to go to the religious leaders of the day and make it look like the priest did the healing, according to the old purity rituals of the Mosaic law. Not only did Jesus not want any credit for the astounding miracle and act of compassion, but also, he wanted his enemies to get the credit for it all! He told the leper to let the priests handle it, “for a proof to them” (Mark 1:44). The Greek word behind “proof” is usually translated as “witness” or “testimony.” Jesus actually wanted his miracle to testify to the Old Testament rituals and priests who performed them, even though Jesus came to abolish all of that! Is Jesus out of his mind?
So what’s going on here?
After the man disobeyed Jesus’s command, telling everyone and his brother that Jesus healed him, we learn why Jesus wanted the priests to get the credit. “But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places” (Mark 1:45). Because the man blabbed about Jesus, Jesus’s cover was blown. He was forced to act secretly and could no longer openly enter a town, because his enemies wouldn’t let him, no doubt, out of envy (Matthew 27:18). Instead, Jesus had to move around in secluded places, where few, if any, people lived.
On the one hand, the healed leper was doing true evangelism. He was spreading the good news about Jesus. But, on the other hand, his zeal cost Jesus opportunities to do more healing and teaching among larger crowds. As soon as the man told the first person he saw about the awesome miracle Jesus did for him, can you picture Jesus rolling his eyes? This man was making life much more difficult for Jesus to minister.
Surely the point of this passage has to do with having wisdom when it comes to telling people about Jesus. Look, you might have never thought about it this way, but Jesus is absolutely fine with you not telling everyone about him. Jesus is fine with someone else, even his enemies, getting the credit for his miracles. Jesus isn’t arrogant or narcissistic. He doesn’t need accolades and he truly doesn’t need our help. We don’t have to tell everyone everything Jesus has ever done.
In fact, to do so may jeopardize the logistics of his mission. That’s why Jesus, “sent him away at once” (Mark 1:43). Have you ever thought, perhaps Jesus doesn’t want attention drawn to himself in a particular instance? Or, perhaps you are not the one to speak for him at this time? Do you realize, maybe Jesus wishes to be the ghost writer (the uncredited author) in some circumstances?
Let’s think about this principle for today. How would it look? While I’m not saying definitively that these are synonymous examples of what happened with the leper, but perhaps they come close. Let’s look at some hot topics today, about which Jesus may desire to stay out of the limelight.
For instance, when it comes to gay marriage, because it’s so controversial, perhaps Jesus is okay with going unmentioned in the conversation. Again, I’m not saying I’m right, but maybe. Another issue could be evolution. Have you ever thought that perhaps Jesus would be fine to give Darwin credit? Maybe yes, maybe no, but we need to think critically about this principle from the story of the leper. Other issues that Jesus might wish to stay out of could be: women in ministry, the type of music you listen to, politics, or your stance on alcohol. Be sure to include issues in psychology, science, and religious pluralism (acceptance of other religions).
Now, you may gasp, “But these topics you mentioned are foundational issues in Christianity!” Oh yeah? They are not any more foundational than the issue Jesus wanted to ascribe to the priests! The cleansing of the leper was symbolic for the forgiveness of sins, and Jesus was fine with letting the temple priests believe they were the ones to thank.
The question you need to ask yourself is, “Is my stance making the spread of the core message of Jesus more difficult?” The core message of Jesus is that God loves us and sent his Son to die on the cross for our sin. The core message of Jesus is that God accepts you just how you are, even if you’re a despised person, like a leper!
Think before you open your mouth to tell someone about Jesus. “Will this cause Jesus to roll his eyes at me?” We don’t always have to defend Jesus, for he knows how to take care of himself.
But take heart, if you, just like every other Christian, have been overzealous and made ministry more difficult for Jesus, don’t beat yourself up too much, because he is also able to overcome our failures. He still loved the leper and I’m sure he was smirking, even as he rolled his eyes at him.
Remember, Jesus told his followers, “I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Among other things, this means that sometimes, the best evangelism is not to say anything about Jesus.
And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter. —Mark 1:40-45
- What are some issues Jesus might want to stay out of today?
- Instead of telling everyone about Jesus, what could the leper have done instead? How does this apply to our controversial issues today?
- Who are the most despised people in our society today? How could you reach out to them?
- What would it look like for you to give your enemies credit?