Compassion is More Than Skin Deep

Many miraculous healings are highlighted in the four gospel records of Jesus’ ministry, and many point to a greater miracle: that God, in His mercy and compassion, heals us of the sin that divides us from Him and each other.  Today’s post will focus on a miracle recorded in Mark 1:40-42, where Jesus heals a leper:

And a leper came to [Jesus], 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.

There is more to this story that Mark didn’t write.  What’s missing?  Jesus pointing out that this leper is breaking Old Testament law. 

In Leviticus 13:45-46, Moses wrote that: “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’  He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.

Because the kind of leprosy referred to in Leviticus and Mark was highly contagious and possibly deadly, this weird ritual was required to prevent accidental transmission of disease, but this particular leper couldn’t stay away from Jesus, and because Jesus was surrounded by crowds, the leper was potentially putting others in danger.  Mark doesn’t write that Jesus was concerned about this.

But the leper wasn’t entirely at ease, doubting whether Jesus would condemn him as an outcast and lawbreaker, or heal him.  What he did not doubt was that Jesus was capable of healing him, as he said to Jesus: “If you will, you can make me clean.”  To this leper, it was a question of whether this religious leader would be willing to help him.  He probably spent a lot of time being told to go away because of his disease; to follow the Levitical law.  Perhaps even now, in modern times, some might be curious about God’s power, but see religious people as uncaring and unwilling to help someone who is so obviously diseased and sinful.  Perhaps they are uncaring because other people are so obviously diseased and sinful.

In Leviticus chapter 13 there are also rules about how to identify a leper, and it’s usually when the symptoms are “deeper than the skin.” (See Leviticus 13:3, 20, 25, and 30). From this phrase, Warren Wiersbe notes in his commentary on Mark chapter 1 how leprosy is an apt metaphor for sin: “Like sin, leprosy is deeper than the skin (Lev. 13:3); it spreads (Lev. 13:5–8); it defiles and isolates (Lev. 13:44–46) …Anyone who has never trusted the Savior is spiritually in worse shape than this man was physically.”[1]

Not only can diseases be more than skin deep, but inner sin can be more dangerous and contagious.  As Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, murder is an outward manifestation of inner anger[2], and adultery is an outward manifestation of inner lust[3].  Sins “deeper than the skin” may be the most important sins because they are the root of the visible external sins.

Fortunately, like inner sin and like leprosy, God’s compassion is also more than skin deep.  In Mark 1:41, the phrase “moved with pity” is a translation of a Greek word that suggests not just a passing feeling or sentiment, but something you literally feel in your guts.  The Greek word appears only 12 times in the New Testament, and always referring to Jesus or God the Father.  You might say that Jesus’ compassion for the leper was so powerful that He felt the leper’s pain in his own gut and was compelled to help him.

Unconcerned about whether His actions would condone the leper’s disregard for the law, the compassion of Jesus compelled Him to heal not just the leper’s bodily disease but also his spiritual disease of sin.  As written in Luke 15:10 – “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Jesus had His priorities right.

May we be likewise “moved with pity” for the sick and lost!

[1] Wiersbe, Warren.  Be Diligent (Mark) (1987).  P. 28.
[2] Matthew 5:21-22
[3] Matthew 5:27-30

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