Mark 1: 40-45
Leprosy was a living death for anyone who had it. While the notion of contagious diseases was still a few centuries away, people had an inkling that leprosy could be spread person-to-person. So, people afflicted with the disease were kept far from everyone else. Their families abandoned them. They were forced to wear bells around their necks and cry out to everyone within earshot, “Unclean! Unclean!”
So, for Jesus to heal this man with leprosy was not just an act healing, but a social act as well. After the man had been checked over by the priests, he didn’t have to wear the bell or warn anyone that he was coming. He could go back to his family and resume his job. He got his life back again.
But the weird thing about this passage is that Jesus tells him “not to tell anything to anyone” about what happened. A command, which, of course, the man ignored. “He began to proclaim it freely,” Mark tells us.
Some theologians call this the “messianic secret.” It’s hard to say why Jesus would give this command. One theory is that Jesus didn’t want it getting around that he was taking the place of the temple (a big theme in Jesus’ ministry, as we’ll later see). Where temple sacrifices only made people “seen” to be made clean, Jesus actually made them clean. He was taking God’s healing beyond ritual and bringing everyone on board. Even social outcasts like lepers.