Well, I Never!

Well, I never!” That’s an old phrase you don’t hear much anymore… except in old movies. It is a dated exclamation of surprise, usually at something shocking. You know the scenes from the old Three Stooges movies where Curly flirts with an attraction woman, and she turns and harrumphs, “Well, I never!” The British variant is “Well, I never did” as in, “I never did hear of such a thing!” It’s more than just an expression of surprise; it is an expression of disgust and perhaps even anger. And maybe it’s an expression of Jesus in our reading today from Mark 1. Maybe.

In Mark 1:40, a leper comes to Jesus with the simple expression of faith, “If you will, you can make me clean” (ESV). Of course, Jesus was willing. The story probably would not have been recorded if Jesus would have said, “Not today; I’m on vacation.” OK, maybe that WOULD have been recorded because that would have been a VERY unusual story! But here is what really happens (again from ESV), “Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” The leper says, “If you will…” and Jesus says, “I will.” And he does.  Because he was “moved with pity” (ESV). In the NET, he is “moved with compassion.” In the Message, he is just “Deeply moved.” But in the NIV (2011) from which I read, the story takes on a different flavor—

Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.

Jesus was indignant? Really?  Jesus looks at the leper and says, “Well I never!” Well, I never! How does that make sense? Why does the NIV here translate this so differently? Well, there is a textual variant here that is a bit confusing. There are so many different Greek texts and they do sometimes have slight variations caused by scribal slips.  But because there are so many texts, scholars can usually determine quite easily how the variants happened and what the original text said. In this text, some older manuscripts and Latin versions have “moved with anger” while others have “moved with pity.” So which is the most likely reading? Well,  it could have been either. Most scholars choose the “pity” reading because it makes the most sense; others choose the “anger” reading because it is harder to explain how “pity” would be changed to “anger” rather than the other way around. But BOTH readings make sense and neither change the meaning of the story (usually the case in textual variants)

  • Jesus is moved with pity or compassion, and that is His motivation for healing the leper. You can read similar stories in Matt 9:36, Mark 6:34 and others where this is the case. Jesus doesn't heal just to make a big splash publicly; sometimes he heals in private just because he is compassionate.
  • Jesus would have also been moved with anger or indignation because sickness and suffering was not the way things were supposed to be. Jesus heals a deaf man in Mark 7:34 only after heaving a deep sigh. The world was not supposed to be broken; that’s why Jesus came. (See also Mark 3:5, 10:14)

OK, if you've waded through all this with me this far, then you’re probably wondering if there’s a point. Here it is. When we are confronted by the brokenness of the world we live in—sin, suffering, sickness—there are two appropriate reactions that we can have both emulating Jesus

  • We can respond with compassion and pity for the person caught up in the sin, sickness and suffering… and be moved to help as we can.
  • We can respond with anger at the brokenness of a world that allows such sin, sickness and suffering… and be moved to help as we can.

What we are not to do is to become angry at the person caught up in sin, sickness and suffering and turn away from them and refuse to help as we can. That was the reaction that we will see in Mark from the Pharisees to the sin, sickness and suffering of the world. And their response to the compassionate and healing Christ was also an emphatic, “Well, I never.” We need to make sure we respond like Jesus and not like the Pharisees.