“And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.” (Mark 1:40–42, ESV)
We normally think that it is people or animals—things that breathe and are alive—that can obey or disobey. Jesus is not constrained by our thinking. He lived and spoke and acted as if even inanimate things, like wind and waves, could and ought to obey his word. This is inconceivable.
In this passage from the first chapter of Mark we have a man with leprosy. We are not sure if this disease was leprosy as we understand leprosy, it could and did apply to a wide variety of nasty skin diseases. We do know, however, that whatever skin disease the man had made him unclean. Everyone avoided lepers for two reasons: they did not want to catch leprosy, and they did not want to become unclean by touching someone with leprosy.
The leper sought out Jesus and it is obvious that the leper believed that Jesus could heal him. “If you will,” he says, “you can make me clean.” It was not Jesus’ ability that was a question in the mind of the leper, it was whether or not Jesus wanted to heal him.
The leper was desperate, as any of us would be in the same situation. There was no cure for leprosy as such, and for this man it was in all likelihood a life sentence of shame and banishment from close connection with his community. The leper is a beautiful example of dependence and need. He was helpless to heal himself and he no doubt hears that a Great Healer has appeared and naturally he must go to see this Man.
Surely this leper is a picture of all of us apart from Christ. We are unclean and marred and marked by the ravages of sin in our lives—no matter how healthy we may appear outwardly—we need something and in our quiet moments when we allow ourselves to think, we know we need something. It is need and desperation that drive us to Jesus, just like this leper.
The healing scene is remarkable. Jesus touches the leper—which should have made Jesus ceremonially unclean—and says “I will; be clean.” Instead of being made unclean by touching the leper, Jesus’ touch makes the leper clean.
“And immediately the leprosy left him.” Here is something extraordinary, the leprosy obeys Jesus. When Jesus speaks the words “be clean,” there is nothing for the leprosy to do but leave the man completely and permanently. This terrible disease exists only so far and in such manner as Jesus allows it to exist. It is subject to his overarching sovereignty. He speaks; it obeys, just like every other created thing in the universe.