Authority over Ritual Purity

The touch of the Nazarene cleansed a leper from ritual impurity, restoring him physically AND religiously. Moreover, 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. In fact, the Son of Man’s touch drove out the disease and the impurity - (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, and worst of all for a Jewish victim, was his exclusion from the religious life of the nation.


A man who contracted leprosy became “unclean,” ritually defiled, and remained so unless healed miraculously by God, an extremely rare event in the Old Testament record.

And his condition had to be certified as “clean” by a priest even after his being physically healed before he could be restored to the community, a process that required the victim to perform 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 the covenant community 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 the Gospel of Mark, a 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 of the passage states that Jesus “stretched out his hand and GRASPED” the leper. This indicates a deliberate act done without hesitation. The Greek word rendered “grasp” means more than simply “touching” someone. It denotes “taking hold, grabbing, clinging to” someone or something - (haptomaiStrong’s - #G680).

To touch any leper would render an Israelite “unclean.” Such a change in status would necessitate undergoing the rituals required by the Torah to cleanse the defilement. But apparently, this consideration did not concern Jesus. He did not disregard the Law, but he did relativize its requirements when confronted with a genuine human need.

In the religion of Israel, a cured leper was not “healed” but “cleansed.” And when this leper approached Jesus, that is what he asked - to be “cleansed.”

Being delivered of leprosy meant physical healing, but much more is implied by the word “cleansed.” To be ritually “clean” enabled a man to participate in the religious life of the community.

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

But instead of going to the priest, the leper went about broadcasting what Jesus had done, and this made it difficult for him to preach in the local villages, so instead, “he was outside in desert places.”

The story ends ironically. Rather than render the “Son of Man unclean” as defined by the Law and “tradition of the elders,” the touch of the Nazarene who was NOT a priest cleansed the “unclean” leper.

And while Jesus did not reject the Levitical purity codes, his act anticipated their obsolescence. In his kingdom, all citizens are cleansed of sin’s stain by his one sacrificial act and thus enabled fully to enter into the worship life of the assembly.



The Living Word

The Suffering Servant