§ 27. The Healing of the Leper


§ 27.

The Healing of the Leper.

Matthew 8:1-4.

Immediately after calling the two pairs of brothers, Jesus goes with them to Capernaum, where they are based, and he appears as a powerful teacher in the synagogue, so much so that the people are amazed. Even a man who was possessed by an unclean spirit and present in the synagogue, or rather the demon in this man, recognizes in Jesus “the Holy One of God” and senses that he has come to destroy him and his kind. When he cried out and revealed that he knew who Jesus was, Jesus commanded him to be silent and to come out of the possessed man, and he was freed to the amazement of those present.


Luke includes this account of Mark’s (Mark 1:21-28) in his writing in its entirety, after he had led the Lord of Nazareth to Capernaum (Luke 4:31-37). The only mistake he made was to allow Jesus to go to Capernaum and even stay at Peter’s house (verse 38) before reporting the calling of the first disciples.

Although Matthew was indeed hasty in mentioning Capernaum (Matthew 4:13), he does not report the calling of the first disciples as late as Luke, but instead has Jesus travel around Galilee and gain great fame in order to give the Sermon on the Mount an appropriate background. And he reports the sermon itself so early because he wants to show by example that Jesus’ teachings must have greatly affected the people.

He cannot report the incident in the synagogue in Capernaum, so he leaves it aside for later when it would be more appropriate to bring it up. Now, however, he is dominated by Luke, from whom he borrowed the occasion, idea, and structure of the Sermon on the Mount, and he must now, willingly or unwillingly, have the Lord come to Capernaum and heal the centurion’s servant. But before that, as the Lord is coming down from the mountain to Capernaum, he sends the leper to meet him. Why? He wanted to fill in the empty space between the descent from the mountain and the meeting with the centurion upon entering the city. He did not want the triumphal procession of the divine envoy and new legislator to go unnoticed in one place, and if just then the people were amazed at the powerful preaching of the preacher, he wanted to immediately start the miracle-working upon coming down from the mountain and arriving in the plain. He was led to this healing in particular by the following circumstance. After the great sermon, Luke says, the Lord entered Capernaum *). Matthew reads the same thing word for word from Mark **) at a place where he had just read the healing of the leper – he needed no more than this to believe he was justified in inserting this healing precisely here, where a miracle was so necessary to him before Jesus entered Capernaum.

*) Luke 7:1 εισηλθεν εις Καπερναουμ

**) Mark 2:1 και παλιν εισηλθεν εις Καπερναουμ


The fact that he placed it in the wrong place and was forced to leave out the punchline of the whole thing, we have already seen.

Luke reports it at the place where he found it in Mark; he places it on the journey that Jesus took when he left the house of Peter, but he had already disorderly arranged the travel plan from the beginning when he lets Jesus call Peter on this journey. In addition, he has given the situation an indefinite definiteness, while Mark leaves it completely indefinite, as appropriate to the punchline. According to Mark’s account, the leper came to the Lord while he was traveling throughout Galilee, but according to Luke, when Jesus was in one of the cities where, as he said at the beginning of his journey, he must also preach the gospel ***). Finally, Luke does not reproduce the contrast on which Mark has built the whole thing purely; he does not say that despite the prohibition, the healed man made the matter known and Jesus had to stay away from the cities and retreat into the wilderness. Rather, he chooses the indefinite portrayal that the reputation of Jesus only spread further *), that the crowds flocked to him to hear him and be healed, and that he himself stayed in the wilderness and – the standing formula! – prayed. Peter’s catch of fish made this weakening of the contrast necessary, as it not only interrupts the journey, but also gives the impression that it only begins when Jesus meets the leper in one of the cities. At least now the travel report makes a new start when Jesus and the sick man meet, and it would have to end too quickly if the healed man immediately made Jesus known as his savior and forced him to withdraw into secrecy. The news of the miraculous event must therefore spread only generally – one does not know how, but in any case in a way that takes more time – among the people.

***) Luke 5:12: και εγένετο εν τω είναι αυτόν εν μιά των πόλεων.  4:43: και ταϊς ετέραις πόλεσιν ευαγγελίσασθαι με δεί.

*) Luke 5:15: διήρχετο δε μάλλον ο λόγος περί αυτού.


So in Mark we find the conception of the story in its first purity, simplicity, and epigrammatic elaboration. The tension of the whole is calculated for the point at which Jesus so strictly forbids the announcement of the miracle, and the appropriate resolution of the tension is given in the circumstance that the healed man nevertheless and even immediately, after leaving Jesus, speaks much about the matter, makes it known, and thereby causes the crowds to rush to the Lord himself in the wilderness, where he had withdrawn to.

But why does Jesus forbid the healed man so strictly to speak of the matter? Why does he tell him to show himself only to the priest and to offer the cleansing sacrifice commanded by Moses “as a testimony to them”? The matter cannot be understood as if the man were not first to speak with the people at length and first show himself to the priest, as if it were then permitted for him to make the matter known. The prohibition is rather absolute: he is not to speak with anyone at all about the matter **), that is, he is not to betray his doctor as the miraculous Messiah; for the healed man had recognized Jesus not only through the miracle but had already recognized him as the Messiah from the outset when he addressed him with the words: “if you will, you can make me clean.” The solution does not lie in the assumption that Jesus himself was initially uncertain of his messianic calling: for in this case, he could not have spoken as if the assumption of the sick man regarding his messianic dignity and power was fully correct. Instead of merely forbidding him to speak of the miracle, he should have told him that his assumption was too far-reaching. Or did Jesus’s still obscure intuition of his messianic calling get hit electrically by the recognition of another, so that in this recognition he saw what was not yet clearly recognized by himself, then he should have spoken differently in this case as well. But just as his words simply confirm the assumption of the healed man, his messianic nature must have been long recognized and generally acknowledged if someone were to come up with the idea of demanding the liberation from leprosy from him without further ado.

**) “Ορα μηδενί μηδέν είπης.


In the third edition of his work, *) Strauss finds “the true reason for that prohibition” in the account of the fourth Gospel. Just as in John 6:15, the people, because they had concluded from the miraculous feeding that he was the Messiah, intended to make him king by force, “so he had to fear from the dissemination of any act or discourse that seemed to testify to him as the expected Messiah an excitement of the fleshly Messianic hopes of his contemporaries, whose transformation into the spiritual was the task of his life.” If Jesus really had something to fear, then he must have had very little confidence in the power and clarity of his speech, or his speech must have been of such a nature that he could not rely on its impression at all. Or, as for the deeds, it would have been not only less dangerous, but also dignified and appropriate if he had not performed any that could cast a false light on his work and his purpose. But how does the critic reason from the assumption that Jesus really worked miracles—namely, miracles according to the popular notion? Only the apologist can fall into the contradiction that, on the one hand, he demands miracles from Jesus so that he can worship him as the Messiah, and on the other hand, he must hide them away in order to see Jesus as the spiritual Messiah. And what about the testimony of the fourth Gospel? How can that serve to explain the difficulty? What is it other than the view pushed to the extreme pinnacle that is just now to be explained?

*) E. J., I, 548.


Also Wilke *) explains that “Jesus does not want to make a big deal out of it.” The meaning of his command, with which he dismisses the healed man, is: “Don’t say anything about the healing, let the people see for themselves that you have been healed when you bring your cleansing offering.” Very well! To some extent, this explanation is based on the text, but not entirely, as it puts an accent on the “you” and “the people themselves” which the text does not know. On the other hand, it does not exhaust the text, as the words of the text: “for a testimony to them,” are too solemn to only mean: “so that the people see that you have been healed.”

We would vainly try to explain the words which the evangelist puts in Jesus’ mouth if we did not, with a jolt, move away from the apologetic standpoint which takes those words as Jesus’ words from the outset. But the following consideration gives us that jolt. It is true that the words imply that Jesus does not want to make a big deal out of it, and if he did not want to, it could only be because he did not want people’s view of his personality to be too much restricted to one side, namely that of a miracle worker. But if he had really had this principle, he would not have followed it at the right time or rather he would have either not been able to perform miracles at all or only very rarely. Does this not give miracle working a great predominance when he heals a large number of sick people in the evening when he had taken up residence in Peter’s house (C. 1, 33) and later, when crowds from all of Palestine flocked to him (C. 3, 7), so many that he exhausted himself? Why, if only one leper is healed, forbid the announcement of the story, since he healed in the presence of a large crowd before and (C. 3, 8) the crowds came to him because they had heard of his deeds, i.e. his miracles? And scarcely has Jesus forbidden the leper to speak of the matter, than the first thing he does after leaving him is to make the matter known. And what is the result? The people streamed to him from all directions! But if the prohibition was so completely useless, Jesus would have known beforehand, and therefore he would not have bothered to oblige the healed man to be silent. On the other hand, if he had really issued the prohibition, we may be sure—and we must presuppose this of any real man—that his word was so firm, so serious, and so penetrating that the healed man could not have forgotten it even for a moment.

*) Der Urevangelist, p. 182.


All possibility of seeing words of Jesus in this prohibition has thus disappeared for us. It was made by the evangelist, but since it is the core of the whole story, since it is the punchline that the miracle only serves to bring about, nothing can give us the certainty that Jesus performed this miracle. In addition, the whole situation is purely fabricated: the first disciples had to be called urgently so that Jesus could come to Capernaum as quickly as possible, but he had to arrive immediately on his first appearance in Capernaum, because at the time when Mark wrote, this city was considered the center of his Galilean travels, and because it was now fitting that he should embark on his first mission journey from Capernaum: in short, if the early entry into Capernaum and the departure the following day are events that only took place in the pragmatic reflection of Mark, then we also know where Jesus was traveling when he met the leper.


The enigmatic prohibition now stands as a free creation of Mark’s and its meaning will now only be revealed. As the belief in miracles had developed to the extent that it was believed that the Lord had often performed miracles, healed the sick and raised the dead, a contradiction arose which is necessarily inherent in the Christian idea of miracles. It was established that Jesus had performed miracles, thereby accrediting himself as the one sent by God and testifying to the divine origin of his work. On the other hand, with the rise of the Christian principle, the Jewish demand for signs had been so far restricted and the proof from the spirit had become so prominent, or at least a postulate, that one did not want to rely solely on miracles or view Jesus solely as a miracle worker and thus somehow had to limit the view of miracles. In the graphic portrayal of the gospel story, this contradiction took on the form that Jesus performs miracles – for that was once absolutely necessary – and at the same time declares that he does not want to attach weight to such deeds. The miracles must therefore – forgive the expression – be hidden away in the corner or placed under a bushel: Jesus forbids their publication. However, the evangelical view is unable to remain consistent; it does so already in that it forms miracles that must be hidden away again, and thus it has, at the same time as it hides them, a secret interest in miracles and yet it cannot have told the story in vain. Therefore, it must somehow present the prohibition as futile: in the present case, it portrays the situation in such a way that the healed man nevertheless makes the miracle known and causes the crowds from all over to rush after the Lord into the seclusion of the desert (Mark 1, 45).


Now, the solemn words “as a testimony to them”? The context in which we find them will explain them. If the leper turns to Jesus convinced that he is the Messiah and therefore can help him, and if Jesus then heals him with a single word, it seems that this would result in a conflict with the order of the law, namely that the legal ceremony of priestly purification and cleansing would no longer be necessary. After this healing, however, the clashes with the Pharisees and with the law follow (Mark 2.) – is it not clear that this healing and Jesus’ statement are intended to form the transition to this new section? In the sense that the transition would make it clear that Jesus did not willfully bring about the collisions with the law, and in fact did everything to avoid them where they could be avoided? “To be a testimony to them,” therefore, means that my higher authority should not overturn or violate the legal order at any cost, as a testimony to all who would like to reflect on it.

The new contradiction into which the entire prohibition falls at the end is loud enough to draw our attention.



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