When the leper comes close enough to Jesus to beg for healing, Jesus is deeply moved with compassion to heal him at once. It is one thing to feel pity for an unfortunate soul, and quite another to reach out and touch someone who is probably contagious with a horrible disease. Jesus does not baulk at touching the leper.
Images of Jesus being compassionate are frequent.
Images of Jesus being stern are not, and this is one of those infrequent times.
Jesus goes to some considerable length to remind the former leper of the official process of being reinstated as clean and healed through the priests, and to not tell anyone about how he was healed.
Because under Jewish law anyone who touched something considered unclean became unclean themselves and had to go through a lengthy process to be reinstated as clean again. If someone touched a dead body, they would be ritually unclean for 7 days.
Someone who had touched a leper would be ostracized until a reasonable quarantine period had been observed.
Any days of ostracism mean days where Jesus is unable to minister to people, to preach and to heal.
If the former leper had been obedient and kept silent about how his healing was accomplished, many more people could have been ministered to by Jesus. That’s a serious matter. God only asks us not to do something if it is important and has consequences.
Keeping silent is a legitimate request. It is not asking the former leper to lie.
Quite possibly if Jesus had been at prayer in a lonely place when the leper approached Him, the disciples didn’t know about it, and only the leper and Jesus knew what had happened.
We know what happened because the story was preserved in this Gospel and in Matthew and Luke as well. The man could not contain himself, even though Jesus had asked him so specifically to refrain from telling the story.
When God tells us not to do something, we need to take it seriously.
When Solomon in his younger days had a profound experience with God, God sternly warned him to not follow any other gods. But as Solomon got older he forgot. In order to please his foreign wives he set up altars to other gods, and incurred the anger of God. Justice came in his son’s reign when only 2 tribes, Judah and Benjamin, were left to the hereditary kingdom of David, and the other 10 tribes went with a military leader who then set about distancing those 10 tribes from worship of the true God. Those 10 tribes are still lost. This was serious stuff.
We don’t know all the ramifications of the leper being disobedient, only that it was serious enough for Jesus to be stern with him. Maybe if the leper had kept silence he would have been greatly honoured by God. Maybe if the leper had kept silence, several thousand more people may have been healed and brought into God’s kingdom. How many people didn’t get to meet Jesus in person, because the leper didn’t keep silence? Maybe the silence was a reparation for the leper being a chatterbox earlier in life.
Most of us are conflicted about this because it is one of our favourite stories of Jesus, and because we think the request for silence was too hard or too impractical. In essence we think the request was utterly unreasonable, and that Jesus was a bit touched in the head for even thinking of requesting it; we think our ways are much better than God’s ways.
The problem is: that’s how disobedient people think; that’s how the serpent in the garden of Eden thought; that’s the thinking that set Adam and Eve up for failure.
God puts a premium on obedience. Obedience pleases Him. Disobedience doesn’t, and never will.
May this Gospel account give us the grace to decide to be obedient to God no matter what. Amen.