Moved with pity or anger?

August 5, 2014

Dear brothers and sisters,

The good news today comes from verses 40-45 at the end of chapter 1 in Mark’s gospel.

A leper came to him [and kneeling down] begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. Then he said to him, “See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.” The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere.

This is a really puzzling account. Some early manuscripts state that Jesus was moved with anger, not pity. That actually makes sense to me. I have had encounters with beggars who are challenging and defensive, braced to be rebuffed or ignored yet again. They have become so absorbed by their own plight, by life’s unfair treatment of them, that they make themselves repulsive to assure that their worldview is confirmed, that they are truly unworthy of understanding and compassion. He is possessed by demons, a kind of perverse pride in his repulsiveness and wrath at the unfair hand God has dealt him since disease was believed to be a sign of God’s punishment for sin.

Jesus’ anger was directed toward these demons especially the wrath misdirected toward his Father. The leper challenged him just as Satan had in the desert. Even so, Jesus made him clean by his healing touch. Moloney in The Gospel of Mark explains that the word translated as “warning him sternly” is a word rarely used in the Greek scriptures meaning “to snort angrily.” Further, he writes that “his sending him on his way is equally forceful: he thrust him away.” That doesn’t sound like pity to me. Jesus was a man moved by his emotions. However, he was compelled to heal this man in spit of his own anger because his purpose was to demonstrate God’s love and compassion.

The leper who had been cut off from society ignores Jesus’ command to go to the priest and be received back into community. He may represent Israel in the sense that the Jews had cut themselves off from God and, despite Jesus’ ministry as the living word of God, refused to be reconciled to God and to His people. He clung to his self-absorption. He also distorted Jesus’ purpose and mission. He cast Jesus as a miracle worker, ignoring that he was the Messiah, the anointed one of God, the Son of God. His missed the point of his own healing. He was healed on the outside, but inside he was still cut off from God.

It’s a reminder for me to approach Jesus with a clean heart, sincere and humble, so that I may be embraced rather than thrust away. That means approaching him with a willingness to give up my demons instead of challenging Jesus’ power to overcome them. It’s a matter of trust and grateful obedience.



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