The past few days I’ve been thinking about the story of Jesus healing a man with leprosy (Mark 1:40-45). In the story, the man comes to Jesus and says, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus, filled with compassion, reaches out, touches the man and says, “I am willing. Be clean.” The leprosy leaves the man and Jesus tells the man to go show himself to the priest and offer the proper sacrifice for someone who has been healed of leprosy as a testimony to the priest and the public. The man leaves Jesus but, instead of going to the priest, he goes and tells everyone else about what Jesus had done for him. The story says that because of the man’s choice, Jesus could no longer go into the towns freely, but stayed in secluded places and the people had to come to him.
As I have been thinking about this story there are a few things that stick out to me. The first is the man’s faith. There is no hint of doubt in the man’s question as to whether Jesus was able to heal him or not. Jesus was able and the man believed that he was willing. His faith is evident in the very fact that he asked.
The second thing that catches me is Jesus’ touch. Jesus knew as well as any Jew of his day that to touch someone with leprosy, or even something they had touched, would mean that you yourself became unclean. But in his great compassion Jesus reaches out and touches the man. And, you know what, instead of Jesus becoming contaminated by his uncleanness, the man with leprosy is healed. Could Jesus have healed the man by his word alone? Surely. But he chose to demonstrate his love by touching the untouchable.
The third (and maybe a fourth closely tied into it) is the man’s response to Jesus healing him. Jesus gives him very clear and specific instructions and the man, who had shown so much faith, allows his excitement about what Jesus had done for him to trump Jesus’ command to him. At first, you don’t even realize what is happening; Jesus heals him and he goes and tells everyone, that’s great! What a testimony! What could be wrong with that?
And then you read a little further and begin to realize some of the implications of this man’s choice. In choosing to do what he thought was right, rather than what Jesus had told him, there were huge consequences. The priest missed out on the opportunity to see and hear what Jesus had done for the man in its proper context. The public missed a chance to see Jesus’ healing in right relationship with the Mosaic law. And Jesus wasn’t able to go and preach in the towns, which he had just told his disciples was at the very heart of his mission (v. 38). Now, instead of Jesus going into the towns and preaching, he was so mobbed by people looking for healing that he stayed in the rural places outside of town and still people came, not to hear his message, but seeking his healing.
Sometimes a good thing (telling people about Jesus had done for him), done in a wrong way (instead of going to the priest), has bad results. The man’s intentions were good, but in choosing to do what he thought was best rather than what Jesus asked of him, he actually hindered what Jesus was trying to do.
I wonder how often this man with leprosy is actually you and me? How often do we rush forward to do what we think is best for Jesus while at the same time ignoring what we know he has already told us to do? I think that sometimes we get so excited about what seems good to us that our good intentions actually miss what Jesus wants to do. I, for one, want to make sure that I am always doing what I know Jesus has told us, before I run off with my own good ideas.