|Lion of St. Mark, Piazza San Marco, Venice|
This passage contains another powerful image. A man with some kind of ugly, possibly leprous skin disease went to Jesus for healing. The man recognized Jesus' power to help him and asserted as much to Jesus. As Mark has it, Jesus felt pity (TEV, NRSV) or compassion (NIV) for the man, and said that he did want (very much, we feel from Mark's economical prose) to heal the man. And he did. Jesus then went an important step further, one that tells us about his socio-religious context and also shows how aware he was of it himself. Jesus instructed the man to go to the proper authorities and carry out the proper rituals so that he would be ritually purified as well as physically healed. Jesus, thus, didn't just cure the man, but he also liberated him from the oppressive social condition the physical deformity put him in. We need to constantly remember that illness wasn't a matter of being sick. The ill were ill because they'd displeased God. Their illness was, in a sense, karmic, and Jesus released them from that karma. Jesus, in sum, healed the man in three dimensions. Physically. Socially. Spiritually.
2012 comment: Over the years, this passage has become one of my favorite passages in the New Testament. I was recently asked what passage in the gospels best describes Jesus, and I answered with this story. It points to Jesus' compassion esp. for the people at the margins of society. Still more importantly, it points to the effective way in which Jesus exercised that compassion. It was only in the powerful event of the Resurrection that the disciples saw the full power of the Spirit working in Jesus, but it was in healing events like this one that we see the foreshadowing of the Resurrection. Before Jesus experienced it himself, he resurrected people like this man from their living deaths thus showing himself to be a deep channel for the work of the Spirit.