In Mark 1:40-45, Jesus makes a leper clean, and in a way that may surprise you.
Here’s a man with leprosy, a skin disease, and the Old Testament says that he has to declare himself “Unclean, unclean!” This leper is in exile. He’s an outcast. No wonder he calls upon Jesus: “You can make me clean.” So Jesus makes him clean.
But then something curious happens. Jesus instructs the former leper not to tell anybody about his miraculous healing. Jesus says this sort of thing all throughout the book of Mark. Why? Because Jesus knows that if everyone starts publicizing what he’s doing, the miracles will become a distraction. Worse, they will get the wrong people’s attention at the wrong time. The Jewish leaders will notice him (even more). They will get jealous (even more). Everyone will be confused (even more) about what sort of Messiah Jesus is. And the constellation of all this confusion could lead to Christ’s premature death–before all has been accomplished. That’s why Jesus instructs the leper not to say anything.
Nevertheless, the healed leper, ignoring Jesus’ exhortation, goes out and starts telling his story. And sure enough, the crowds hear about, people start flocking to Jesus, and he can no longer openly enter a town. Just like he thought, the miracle has become distraction, a diversion, and possibly a danger. So the episode ends with Jesus out in desolate places.
Do you see what has happened? The leper, who was an outcast, comes to Jesus so that he might be cleansed. Jesus gives him his cleansing and restores him to community. He has a new life. But after this great miracle where do you find Jesus? He’s alone. He’s out in desolate places. He’s become an outcast. The leper and the Christ have traded places: the outsider is brought in as the Chosen One is cast out.
This is how sinners enter the family of God. Because the Son was forsaken by his Father, we can join the household of God. For us to be made made clean, Christ had to be reckoned unclean for our sakes. Jesus didn’t overlook uncleanness; he conquered it. And he didn’t just conquer it; he traded places with it.
For lepers–of every kind.