[Excerpted from the January/February 2018 issue of Emmanuel. Blessed Sacrament Father Paul J. Bernier served for many years as the editor of Emmanuel. He is a popular writer, preacher, and director of retreats. Among his many published works is Ministry in the Church: A Historical and Pastoral Approach, Second Edition, published by Orbis Books in 2015.]
So far Mark has had Jesus begin his ministry with a call for repentance, gather followers, heal many, and pray. Mark then details five specific cures, of which today’s gospel passage is the third. For the first time, we see the emotional side of Jesus. Many manuscripts say that Jesus became angry, although the majority state that he was moved with pity. Most of us probably instinctively prefer the thought of Jesus being moved with compassion. It accords well with the appeal the leper makes to Jesus.
If we choose the idea of anger or indignation, there are two possible ways of understanding it. It may reflect Jesus’ hostility to the forces of evil in our world, as when he rebukes demons. Or he may have become impatient at being interrupted in his primary task of teaching. Our passage does end with the leper spreading the news abroad “so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.” In any case, this passage shows Jesus as an emotional human being. The other Gospels tend to tone down Jesus’ emotions, much as a good deal of spiritual writing does today because of a higher Christology. It’s so easy to forget that Jesus was fully human, as Mark shows him to be. It is comforting to think of Jesus as a person with a normal range of emotions.