patty kirk

patty kirk lying down, getting up, sitting at home, walking down the road doing deuteronomy 6:7

Sunday, February 24, 2013

i'll take my scripture neat

Mark jolted me this morning out of mere dutiful scripture reading—in order to make my daily posting for Lent that I’ve committed myself to—into genuine puzzlement and absorption. A guy with leprosy comes to Jesus, drops to his knees, and begs, “If you are willing, you can make me clean” (Mark 1:40 NIV).

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.




  1. Isn’t it possible that either meaning is true? That Jesus was filled with compassion and also indignant and irritated? I agree that of course he was filled with compassion and that is not so fun to ponder. It is hard to heal without compassion. Indignation? I like your description. It is entirely possible that he was indignant for the reasons you wonder about. It is also possible that he was indignant at the implication of the man's statement. "If you are willing" implies that Jesus may not be willing. In the same way it expresses belief, it also shows that the man does not know God. OF COURSE I AM WILLING! If you really knew me and you really knew God then you would also know that. How DARE you suggest that I might not be willing?! Be healed! Oh, and by the way, don’t talk to anyone about this because you've got me all wrong.

  2. I'm all for that sort of doubled reading. Or trebled or quadupled. Just this morning, in a Sunday school class where we are studying missions in the OT, someone asked, of that those suffering servant passages in Isaiah that we Christians read as being about Jesus, if Jews read them as being about Israel. Beneath her question was the question, I thought, of which one view was correct. So, that was being debated, and it occurred to me, as it often occurs to me, that both could be right, couldn't they. Both Jesus and Israel were chosen ones. Both suffered. Both were, in some sense, God's servants. As, indeed, so are we.