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The Four-fold Gospel by J. W. McGarvey

XXXIV. Jesus Heals a Leper and Creates Much Excitement.

^A Matt.VIII.2-4; ^B Mark I.40-45; ^C Luke V.12-16.

^c 12 And it came to pass, while he was in one of the cities [it was a city of Galilee, but as it was not named, it is idle to conjecture which city it was], behold, ^b there cometh { ^a came} ^b to him a leper [There is much discussion as to what is here meant by leprosy. Two diseases now go by that name; viz., psoriasis and elephantiasis. There are also three varieties of psoriasis, namely, white, black and red. There are also three varieties or modifications of elephantiasis, namely, tubercular, spotted or streaked, and anæsthetic. Elephantiasis is the leprosy found in modern times in Syria, Greece, Spain, Norway and Africa. Now, since Lev. xiii., in determining leprosy, lays great stress on a white or reddish-white depression of the skin, the hairs in which are turned white or yellow, and since it also provides that the leper who is white all over shall be declared clean, and since in the only two cases where lepers are described -- Num. xii.10; II. Kings v.27 -- they are spoken of as |white as snow,| scholars have been led to think that the Biblical leprosy was the white form of psoriasis. But the facts hardly warrant us in excluding the other forms of psoriasis, or even elephantiasis; for 1. Leviticus xiii. also declares that any bright spot or scale shall be pronounced leprosy, if it be found to spread abroad over the body; and this indefinite language would let in elephantiasis, cancer and many other skin diseases. In fact, the law deals with the initial symptoms rather than with the ultimate phases of the fully developed disease.2. Elephantiasis was a common disease in our Saviour's time, and has been ever since, and would hardly be called leprosy now, if it had not been popularly so called then. The word |leprosy| comes from |lepo,| which means to peel off in scales. It is hereditary for generations, though modern medical authorities hold that it is not contagious. However, the returning Crusaders spread it all over Europe in the tenth and eleventh centuries, so that according to Matthew Paris there was no less than nine thousand hospitals set apart for its victims. The facts that the priests had to handle and examine lepers, and that any one who was white all over with leprosy was declared clean, led scholars to think that the laws of Moses, which forbade any one to approach or touch a leper, were not enacted to prevent the spread of a contagion, but for typical and symbolic purposes. It is thought that God chose the leprosy as the symbol of sin and its consequences, and that the Mosaic legislation was given to carry out this conception. Being the most loathsome and incurable of all diseases, it fitly represents in bodily form the ravages of sin in the soul of a man. But there must also have been a sanitary principle in God's laws, since we still deem it wise to separate lepers, and since other people besides the Hebrews (as the Persians) prohibited lepers from mingling with other citizens. Elephantiasis is the most awful disease known. The body of its victim disintegrates joint by joint, until the whole frame crumbles to pieces. Psoriasis is milder, but is very distressing. Mead thus describes a case: The |skin was shining as covered with flakes of snow. And as the furfuraceous or bran-like, scales were daily rubbed off, the flesh appeared quick or raw underneath.| In addition to the scaly symptoms, the skin becomes hard and cracks open, and from the cracks an ichorous humor oozes. The disease spreads inwardly, and ends in consumption, dropsy, suffocation, and death], ^c a man full of leprosy [Some have thought that Luke meant to indicate one so completely covered with leprosy as to be clean (Lev. xiii.12-17). But the fact that Jesus sent him to the priest, shows that he was not such a clean leper. Luke meant to describe a leper in the last stages of the disease -- a leper past all hope]: and when he saw Jesus, ^b beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying to him, ^c he fell on his face, ^a and worshipped him, ^c and besought him, saying, ^b unto him, ^c Lord [The Jews, in addressing any distinguished person, usually employed the title |Lord.| They were also accustomed to kneel before prophets and kings. It is not likely that the leper knew enough of Jesus to address him as the Son of God. He evidently took Jesus for some great prophet; but he must have had great faith, for he was full of confidence that Jesus had power to heal him, although there was but one case of leper-cleansing in the Scriptures -- II. Kings v.1-19; Luke iv.27], if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. [The leper believed in the power of Jesus, but doubted his willingness to expend it on one so unworthy and so unclean. In temporal matters we can not always be as sure of God's willingness as we can be of his power. We should note that the man asked rather for the blessing of cleanness than for health. To the Jew uncleanness was more horrible than disease. It meant to be an outcast from Israel, and to be classed with swine, dogs and other odious and abhorrent creatures. The leper, therefore, prayed that the Lord would remove his shame and pollution.] ^b 41 And being moved with compassion, he stretched forth his hand, and touched him [Mark habitually notes the feelings, and hence also the gestures of Jesus. It was not an accidental, but an intentional, touch. Popular belief so confused and confounded leprosy with the uncleanness and corruption of sin, as to make the leper feel that Jesus might also compromise his purity if he concerned himself to relieve it. The touch of Jesus, therefore, gave the leper a new conception of divine compassion. It is argued that Jesus, by this touch, was made legally unclean until the evening (Lev. xiii.46; xi.40). But we should note the spirit and purpose of this law. Touch was prohibited because it defiled the person touching, and aided not the person touched. In Jesus' case the reasons for the law were absent, the conditions being reversed. Touching defiled not the toucher, and healed the touched. In all things Jesus touches and shares our human state, but he so shares it that instead of his being defiled by our uncleanness, we are purified by his righteousness. Moreover, Jesus, as a priest after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. v.6), possessed the priestly right to touch the leper without defilement -- Heb. iv.15], and saith unto him, { ^c saying,} I will; be thou made clean. [The Lord's answer is an echo of the man's prayer. The words, |I will,| express the high authority of Jesus.] ^b 42 And straightway the { ^a his} ^c leprosy departed from him, { ^a was cleansed.} ^b and he was made clean. [|Luke says, 'departed', giving the merely physical view of the event. Matthew says, 'was cleansed', using ceremonial language. Mark combines the two forms| -- Godet.] 43 And he strictly charged him, ^c to tell no man [The language used indicates that Jesus sternly forbade the man to tell what had been done. The man's conduct, present and future, shows that he needed severe speech. In his uncontrollable eagerness to be healed he had overstepped his privileges, for he was not legally permitted to thus enter cities and draw near to people (Num. v.2, 3); he was to keep at a distance from them, and covering his mouth, was to cry, |Tame, tame -- unclean, unclean| (Lev. xiii.45, 46; Luke xvii.12, 13). The man evinced a like recklessness in disregarding the command of Jesus]: ^b and straightway sent him out, ^a 4 And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man; { ^b say nothing to any man:} [Several reasons are suggested why the Lord thus commanded silence: 1. It may have been better for the man not to mention his cure (John ix.34).2. He required the decision of the priest to make him legally clean; and too much talk might so prejudice the priests as to lead them to refuse to admit his cure.3. But the best reason is that it accorded with our Lord's general course, which was to suppress excitement, and thus prevent too great crowds from gathering about him and hindering his work. To take this view is to say that Jesus meant to prevent exactly what happened] ^c but go, and show thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing, according as Moses commanded, ^b the things which { ^a the gift that} Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them. [Though healed of his leprosy, the man was not legally clean until declared so by the priest. The priest alone could readmit him to the congregation. The local priest inspected the healed leper, and if he was found clean or cured, he was purified by the use of two birds, cedar wood, scarlet and hyssop, razor and bath. After seven days he was again inspected, and if still cured the priest repaired with him to the temple, where he offered the gift for his cleansing, which was three lambs, with flour and oil; or if the leper was poor, one lamb and two doves or pigeons, with flour and oil (Lev. xiv.). The healed leper was a testimony that Messiah, the great Physician, had come, and that he respected the law of Moses. This testimony was given both to priests and people.] 45 But he went out [from the presence of Jesus and from the city], and began to publish it much, and to spread abroad the matter, { ^c 15 But so much the more went abroad the report concerning him:}. [The leper was so elated that he could scarcely refrain from publishing his cure, and he must also have thought that this was what Jesus really wanted -- that in commanding him not to publish it he did not mean what he said] and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by him of their infirmities. ^b insomuch that Jesus could no more openly enter into a city [Not a natural or physical inability, but the inability of impropriety. Jesus could not do what he judged not best to do. The excitement cause by such an entry was injurious in several ways: 1. It gave such an emphasis to the miracles of Jesus as to make them overshadow his teaching.2. It threatened to arouse the jealousy of the government.3. It rendered the people incapable of calm thought. Two things constantly threatened the ministry of Jesus, namely, impatience in the multitude, and envious malice in the priests and Pharisees. Jesus wished to add to neither of these elements of opposition. Thus the disobedience of the leper interrupted Jesus, and thwarted him in his purpose to visit the villages. Disobedience, no matter how well-meaning, always hinders the work of Christ], ^c 16 But he withdrew himself in the deserts, { ^b was without in desert places:} [That is, the the remote grazing-lands like that desert in which he afterwards fed the five thousand. Such was our Lord's unexampled meekness that he preferred the silent deserts to the applause of multitudes. His meekness was as high above the capacity of a merely human being as were his miracles] ^c and prayed. [Luke's gospel is pre-eminently the gospel of prayer and thanksgiving] ^b and they came to him from every quarter.

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