Elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus commends as faith such expressions of trust in his power—in which the speaker acknowledges that Jesus’ will is synonymous with his ability to perform miracles. The guy doesn’t say “If you can…,” as another guy does who makes Jesus respond angrily, “If I can?!” (Mark 9:22-23). Instead, the guy with leprosy seems confident that, if Jesus is simply willing to heal him, his leprosy will go away.
In this instance, though, rather than commending the guy’s faith, Jesus responds quite differently:
Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” (Mark 1:31 NIV).
Why in the world was Jesus indignant? I wondered as I read.
I should point out here that, as is typically the case when I come upon such counterintuitive moments in scripture (of which there are many), the verse is a point of contention among translators and biblical scholars and even, apparently, among the ancient scribes who made the manuscripts from which biblical translators work. Most other versions of the passage go with the more sensible and utterly unsurprising of the two antonymous Greek words the ancient scribes here used for Jesus’ response, choosing σπλαγχνισθείς (splancnisqei, to have compassion)
over the weirder ὀργισθείς (ojrgisqei, to become angry or irritated). So, in just about every English translation besides the newest NIV (even the 1984 NIV disagrees with the 2011 NIV), Jesus is either “moved with” or “filled with” compassion or pity at the man’s request, just as he is in two other of Mark’s accounts in which Jesus responds with splancnisqei to a request for healing (6:34 and 8:2).
All this to say, I have no idea which word is more apt to describe Jesus’ response or why, contrary to almost all other English versions of scripture, the latest NIV translators opted for the less predictable one. But I like to go with the more difficult choice, the one that doesn’t need to be smoothed over by some expert or tethered into predictability. I like my scripture neat, not watered down.
Also, I checked to see how Martin Luther had translated the passage back in 1545, and he seems to have gone with the angrier response: Und es jammerte Jesum. If the German verb jammern back then meant what it means today, Jesus griped at the guy right before he healed him.
And I know this: that guy, for all his faith in Jesus’ power to heal him, is annoying.
I mean, you’d think someone who’d just been given miraculous health after a period of suffering would want to comply with the healer’s request, “‘See that you don’t tell this to anyone’” (Mark 1:44).
But no. According to Mark, “Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news” (Mark 1:45). The guy was, in other words, a blabbermouth.
Just like me, I have to confess. (I’m suffering this weekend from one of my frequent bouts of ruing having said things I shouldn’t have said.)
Jesus probably knew the guy was an bigheaded blabbermouth—or sensed it from some flamboyance of gesture or boasting tone in his voice—and was ticked off by him before the guy ever knelt in the dirt and made his request. And yet, Jesus went ahead and healed him anyway.
Just as he healed me.
And keeps on healing me.