Sunday, March 10, 2024

Authority over Purity Codes

The touch of the Nazarene cleansed a leper from ritual impurity, restoring him physically AND religiously, and Jesus touched the leper BEFORE he was cleansed of his ritual defilement. Any concern over contracting “uncleanness” did not prevent the Messiah from healing a Son of Israel - His touch drove out the disease and cleansed the man’s ritual defilement - (Mark 1:40-45).

Leprosy was a skin ailment and one of the most feared afflictions in the ancient world. Contracting it meant inevitable death after an extended period of suffering and isolation. The worst part for a Jewish victim would be his exclusion from the religious life of the nation.

Clean water - Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
[Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash]

Men who contracted leprosy became “
unclean,” ritually defiled, and remained so unless healed by God, a rare event according to the Old Testament record. Only a priest could certify anyone as “clean” even after being physically healed, which was mandatory before he or she would be restored to the community. That process required the victim to perform the proscribed rituals. Thus, leprosy meant banishment to a slow, painful, and lonely death - (Numbers 12:10, 2 Kings 5:1-2).

Lepers were outcasts, and their “unclean” status prohibited them from entering Jerusalem or the Temple where atonement for sin was made. They were excluded from the spiritual life of Israel and cut off from the presence and forgiveness of God.

Lepers were required to maintain a repugnant appearance, bare their heads, and announce their presence. The rule in Second Temple Judaism was for the leprous person to remain at least fifty paces from others - (Leviticus 13:45-46).


In Mark, the leper approached Jesus near enough for physical contact, and certainly less than the fifty paces required by the “tradition of the elders.” Regardless of other considerations, Jesus was moved with compassion by his plea.

The Greek text states that Jesus “stretched out his hand and grasped” the leper. This was a deliberate act done without hesitation. The Greek word translated as “grasp” meant more than simply “touching” someone. It denoted “taking hold, grabbing, clinging to” the person - (haptomai; Strong’s Concordance - #G680).

Touching a leper made an Israelite “unclean,” which would necessitate undergoing the rituals required by the Torah to cleanse the defilement. Apparently, this consideration did not concern Jesus. He did not disregard the Law, but he did relativize its requirements when confronted with human need and suffering.

In the religion of Israel, a cured leper was not “healed” but “cleansed.” When the leper approached Jesus, that is what he requested, to be “cleansed.” Being delivered of leprosy meant physical healing, but much more was implied by the word “cleansed.” Being “cleansed” would enable the man to participate in the religious life of the community.

Jesus ordered the “cleansed” leper to show himself to a priest. Only the priestly authorities could declare him “clean.” Instructing him to follow the required regulations was an act of compassion. The sooner this was done, the sooner he could be reintegrated into the Jewish religious community.

However, instead of going to the priest, the leper began to broadcast what Jesus had done, making it difficult for him to preach in the local villages, and so, “he was outside in desert places.” Nevertheless, the story ends ironically. Rather than render the “Son of Man unclean,” his touch cleansed the “unclean” leper.

Though Jesus did not reject the Levitical purity codes, his act anticipated their obsolescence. In his kingdom, all citizens would be cleansed of the stain of sin by his one sacrificial act. The Son of Man came to Israel to save and restore sinners.

  • The Living Word - (Jesus is the Word made flesh in whom the glory of God is revealed, the same Word by which God created all things)
  • Salvation for All! - (Jesus dispatched his disciples to announce his Lordship and salvation to the uttermost parts of the Earth)