In this passage, we witness Christ’s first public healings. The whole town gathers at Jesus’ door to bring their sick and demon-possessed to Him. The apostles observe this and begin to realize that Jesus has the power to draw a really big crowd. They put themselves forward as managers to help schedule and maximize His unique gifts and abilities. Before they wake up the next morning, however, Jesus has already left and gone to a solitary place to pray. The contrast here is noticeable between verse 33, where the whole town is gathered at Jesus’ door, and verse 35, where Jesus has disappeared to pray in the hills alone. When the disciples find Him, they say “Everyone is looking for you!” They are surprised that Jesus has withdrawn to a lonely place rather than soak in the adoration of the crowds. The disciples are basically telling Him that they have plans for His schedule that day. They have plans for how to manage His time and maximize His popularity and healing opportunities. It was Jesus who just a few days ago had said to the disciples, “Come, follow me…”, but now it is the disciples who are saying to Jesus, “Come, follow us.” There is a saying that in the beginning God made us in His image, and we have been trying to repay the favor ever since. We want to make God into our image. We want him to fit into our plans. We want him to conform to our idea of what God should be like.
There is a danger that we will fall in the very trap that the first disciples fell into when we, like they, tell Jesus how we want to manage Him. To the very one who broke into our lives and said, “Come, follow me” we will say, “Come, follow us.” We want God to fit into our idea of who God should be. We want Him to do things according to our schedule, our timing, our ideas of what is best. In today’s market-place of entertainment-oriented Christianity, we’ll do almost anything just to keep growing and accommodating the crowds. And so the disciples say to Jesus, “Follow us, and we’ll show you how to really fish for men – lots of them!” But Jesus’ priorities are different, and He makes it very clear when He says, “Let us go somewhere else…so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” Jesus did not come to accommodate the crowds. He did not come just to heal, and He certainly did not come to be popular and well liked. He came to preach the good news of the Kingdom. The order of the following statement in verse 39 is very important: “He traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.” Jesus came to preach first, and then the consequence of His preaching was the fleeing of demons, and, as we shall see, the fleeing of illness.
In verse 40, a leper approaches Jesus and begs to be made clean. It is here that we learn more about Jesus’ divine character and nature. Earlier, we learned that Jesus speaks as God speaks; here, we find that Jesus sees as God sees and touches as God touches. When we see someone with a horrible disease, we shrink back in revulsion. I have spent quite a bit of time in India where it is not uncommon at a train station or some other public place to see someone deformed or diseased in some dramatic way. I know what it feels like to be repelled by contagion and disease. In our natural state, we are repelled by disease, and we flee from sickness and death. Lepers were forced to live apart from the rest of society. If anyone approached them, they had to call out, “Leper, leper leper!” so that the person could flee from the horrible illness lest they too should be contaminated. When Jesus sees the leper, however, He doesn’t see the man’s sickness; He sees his great need. He isn’t filled with repulsion, but rather with compassion.
The word used here for compassion is where we get our word for spleen, because people in the ancient world believed that the spleen was the inner most organ of the human body. When the text says that Jesus was filled with compassion, it means that He was moved deeply within at the innermost part of His being. We find here that Jesus doesn’t see as we see; He sees as God sees. When God sees you and me, He sees us with compassion. We’re encountering something different here, something like what Samuel encountered when God told him that “the Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
Filled with compassion, Jesus then reaches His hand out and touches the leper. He does not fear to touch him as we would, for if we touched the leper, we would catch leprosy; when Christ touches the leper, the leper catches health! Our whole lives are spent running from disease, affliction and death. Here we see Jesus facing it. In fact, the leprosy flees from the presence of Jesus! Something altogether new is at work here in the person of Jesus. Jesus turns the tables on the contagion of sin, disease, sickness, and death. Rather than Jesus catching disease and uncleanliness Himself, the sinners “catch” righteousness, purity, and health from Jesus’ touch. Instead of Christ fleeing from the leper, the leprosy flees from Jesus. Jesus speaks as God speaks, with authority and creative power; He sees as God sees, penetrating to our heart and looking with compassion where others see only sickness; and He touches as God touches, for from His touch comes healing power that overturns all the realms of Satan’s decay. Mark is slowly revealing the identity of this God-Man who speaks and sees and touches as only God can. Sin and sickness are fleeing from the Holy One of all creation. Is it any wonder that when death itself places its hands on Jesus, it is overturned by the resurrection?
In this Advent season, remember the power of human touch. Today, I encourage you to take time to reach out and touch someone who is hurting or in pain. Allow the power of Jesus to work in and through you. Jesus did not walk through this world as we often do, consumed with our own concerns and withdrawn from others’ pain. He walked through this world, seeing and touching with the Creator’s extravagant love for His creation. As His followers, let us live as Jesus lived, and ask Him to help us see the world and touch the world with His compassion.