Sanitising Jesus

Artwork by Phil McKay.

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Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said, ‘Be clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured” (Mark 1:41,42 NIV).

What a nice story! What a nice Jesus! What a happy ending! 

This warm feeling is borne out in other versions that say Jesus healed the leper because He was moved with compassion/He was filled with pity and sympathy/He felt sorry for the man/He had mercy on the man. The New Living Translation says Jesus put His hand on him with loving pity.

But reading the story in my New English Bible made me do a double-take: “In warm indignation Jesus stretched out His hand, touched him and said, ‘Indeed I will; be clean again.’ The leprosy left him immediately and he was clean.”

Indignation? Why would our gentle Jesus reach out to a leper, touch him and heal him with a sense of indignation?

I checked other Bible versions, dug deeper and an interesting picture emerged.

Instead of the word ”compassion” several more (including one version of the NIV) used the word indignation. Others were stronger: the Common English Bible used ”incensed”; the Lexham English Bible said “And becoming angry . . .”; The Easy-to-Read Version tells us what made Jesus angry: “These last words [of the leper] made Jesus angry. But he touched him and said, ‘I want to heal you. Be healed.’”

Why would this poor man virtually grovel at Jesus’ feet imploring/beseeching/begging for help with the words, “IF you are willing, you are able.” They are words charged with emotion. In the eyes of society, this man is under God’s curse. The priests had pronounced him “unclean”. He was untouchable, an outcast mournfully warning others to keep away. He knew Jesus could, but would He heal a sinner-without-hope? Why would his words make Jesus angry?

The Greek continues with an interesting preposition: “Also, having been moved with splanchnistheis (bowels that yearn) and having stretched his hand, [Jesus] touched him and says to him ‘I wish to, be cleansed.’” 

“Also?” The man is passionate and Jesus also. If we omit the ‘m’ in ”compassion” we have ”co-passion”. Splanchnistheis is related to the inner organs and in this case the spleen which figuratively means “feelings of resentful anger”. Jesus resents it that this desperately sick man has been treated like a sinner and demeaned by society; He is indignant that people have been led to believe that sickness and calamity is God’s punishment for sin. I like the insight we get from J B Phillips: “If you want to, you can make me clean.” And Jesus says, “Of course I want to—be clean!”

Jesus touches the untouchable, removes the curse and cleanses the man. And when we read carefully, we see Jesus as much more than “nice”. His personality is filled with emotions that show how pained He is about God’s damaged reputation; how deeply God cares for those in need, how eager He is to restore, how passionately He cares about having a right relationship with people.

Have we sanitised God? Have we robbed Him of what we term ”negative emotions” like anger, indignation and wrath against anything that can hurt or destroy His own; against any form of evil that will separate us from Himself and lead to certain doom? Is God too mature to be passionate about His damaged reputation, the lies the enemy spreads that place the blame of a suffering planet on God’s shoulders? Have we become so logical that we turn firstly to medical and technical solutions rather than remembering that when we call out to our God, His heart, His bowels and even His spleen react (we are told that His nostrils quiver in anger) and He becomes dynamically involved with our concerns?

When we read carefully and dig deep into Scripture, our God will continue to reveal Himself to us in ever increasing glory.

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