“I am willing.”
This morning in my Synoptics class, we were studying the first chapter of Mark and discussing the final verses. Of course, people have written volumes about the cleansing of the leper, but in the final moments of class, the professor asked the seminarians (or laity, like me) about how they would evangelize this to people who had never read it. I didn’t get the chance to speak, so here’s my thoughts on Mark 1:40-45.
The emphasis, for me, in these short verses rests on the “I am willing. . . ” reply of Jesus to the leper, “Be cleansed.” The act of healing the leper doesn’t surprise me as much as the consent of Jesus to willingly ingest the spiritual pain of the leper. This seems to be the first documented occurrence of Jesus voluntarily accepting suffering.
In short, these verses are about an exchange of roles. A faithful, but confident and defying leper approaches Jesus (a violation of law in Jesus’ time) and prostrates himself. It’s doubtful that the leper knows that Jesus is the Son of God, but possibly a miracle worker, perhaps given talent from God: we’ll never know. But having leprosy was considered a judgment of God.
Having leprosy meant being excommunicated from society and from God (i.e., being prohibited from worshipping at the Temple [or synagogue]), thus why it was a violation for a leper to approach a “clean” Jew, with a group of people at that.
But we are told by Mark that Jesus was “moved with pity.” My professor gave me the Greek translation of this word (if anyone knows it, feel free to comment below) and stressed that “pity” is only one sense of it, not surprisingly. It is as if Jesus could feel the agony of the afflicted victim himself. When you can feel what the afflicted feel, how can you do anything but heal?
The leper declares, “If you are willing, I can be made clean.” And he does will it, knowing the implications are tremendous. By healing an unclean man (by touch), he violates the law. This will make Pharisees and scribes hostile towards him. He will not be able to go to synagogues and the Temple. And although he doesn’t want the newly cleansed man to announce the miracle to anyone, the man does regardless, thus attracting huge amounts of attention to him, making him a “rock star” to be hounded by “paparazzi” crowds. He cannot go anywhere. He is now excommunicated from society, in a sense.
It is this voluntary will of Jesus that will play a role in his Christological identity throughout the rest of the Gospel. This is the most humbling part of the narrative. His suffering wasn’t only during his Passion, it was in his service.