Jesus’ ministry expands beyond Capernaum where he is known to heal (Peter’s mother-in-law and “various diseases”), but this healing strikes at one of the most dreaded of ancient diseases.
Leprosy in the Bible might include a whole array of skin diseases, however medical leprosy was indeed known among the ancients and dreaded because of its extreme corruption of the body. Judaism surrounded this infirmity with complex markers to assure that the disease was contained and to definitively ascertain if a cleansing took place (Lev 13-14). For true leprosy, a cleansing would be rare in ancient times. Jesus indeed must have tremendous power to rid the person of this infirmity, and he does it by the authority of his word.
The leper approaches Jesus with a respectful gesture (kneeling) and states his confidence in the Lord: “If you wish you can make me clean.” This is the first declaration of such confidence in Jesus in Mark; the evil spirits fear Jesus. Unlike other healing miracles, Jesus does not have to announce to the leper that he has faith; it is already clear that he does and he acts on his faith.
Jesus’ manner of healing is controversial: he touches the leper. This would make Jesus impure for community functions. But this is a sign of how much “pity” (mercy) he has for this man. For a leper, human touch is absent. This gesture might embarrass him that a person sacrificed purity to touch him, but it brings such consolation by breaking the isolation caused by the disease. For the listening disciple, there is no question that Jesus has endangered his health: his ministry is empowered by the Spirit. He is abundantly dispensing divine mercy on behalf of the poor ones and repentant sinners.
Finally, Jesus sends the man to the priest in order to fulfill the Levitical protocol. The story only tells us that this fellow testifies openly to what Jesus did for him. We understand: how could he keep silent about such an incredible grace? It is little wonder that Jesus “cannot enter a town openly,” that is, unnoticed. He embodies the salvation for which this world so deeply yearns.