The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, "If someone has on his skin a scab or pustule or blotch which appears to be the sore of leprosy, he shall be brought to Aaron, the priest, or to one of the priests among his descendants. If the man is leprous and unclean, the priest shall declare him unclean by reason of the sore on his head.
"The one who bears the sore of leprosy shall keep his garments rent and his head bare, and shall muffle his beard; he shall cry out, "Unclean, unclean!" As long as the sore is on him he shall declare himself unclean, since he is in fact unclean. He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp."(P) The word of the Lord.
Blessed is he whose fault is taken away, whose sin is covered. Blessed the man to whom the Lord imputes not guilt, in whose spirit there is no guile. (R)
Then I acknowledged my sin to you, my guilt I covered not. I said, "I confess my faults to the Lord," and you took away the guilt of my sin. (R)
Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you just; exult, all you upright of heart. (R)
Brothers and sisters, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. Avoid giving offense, whether to Jews or Greeks or the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in every way, not seeking my own benefit but that of the many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.(P) The word of the Lord.
A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, "If you wish, you can make me clean." Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, "I do will it. Be made clean." The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once.
He said to him, "See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleaning what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them."
The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere.(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
Shortly after His baptism in the River Jordan and following His temptation in the wilderness in the province of "Judea", Jesus began His public ministry in the region of Galilee. He did so by proclaiming the coming of God's kingdom and by demonstrating His power over the destructive forces of nature, demons, illnesses, death and sin. For centuries, the people of Israel had been crying out to God and expecting a Messiah, as foretold by their prophets, to come and deliver them from their oppression and suffering. At last, all of the hopes and aspirations of the people and God's promises and prophecies were beginning to be fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus' teachings, healings, exorcisms and wonders were concrete signs of the arrival of God's kingdom and of His love, altogether evident in actions.
Two weeks ago, we read a passage where the inhabitants of Capernaum were "astonished" at Jesus' teaching and "amazed" at the power of His word when He expelled an unclean spirit from a man in the synagogue, Mark (1:21-28). Last week, we read about Jesus having gone to the home of Simon Peter and having healed his mother-in-law, who was suffering from a fever. On hearing of this healing, people brought to Jesus all who were ill with various diseases and Jesus healed every one of them, Mark (1:29-39).
Today, we read the story of Jesus healing a leper, Mark (1:40-45). Leprosy had been prevalent since ancient times, often surrounded by terrifying, negative tales and stigmas of leprosy patients leading to their being shunned as outcasts. Although the number of newly detected leprosy cases has decreased globally, it still remains a disease of the poor. That is, it persists in countries where fresh water is scarce, sanitation is poor and medical care is inadequate.
The disease had been also common in Israel for a long time, as early as the time of Moses. For the safety of people, God gave Moses extensive instructions to deal with the disease, Leviticus (13 and 14). The lepers could not live with their families. They had to live in caves and tents outside villages and towns, or with other lepers, far from the rest of the population. They could not go near other people. If normal person approached them, the lepers had to warn the person by shouting, "Unclean! Unclean!", so that the person could stay away from them, Leviticus (13:44-46).
Touching the lepers, as Jesus did to one of them according to today's gospel was out of the question, Mark (1:41). For it is written in the Book of Leviticus, "If an unclean man touched anyone or spit on anyone, that person would be unclean until evening and, he had to confess his "sin" and make a sin offering to become clean again, Mark (15:7-8); Leviticus (5:3-6).
At the time of Jesus, there was no medical treatment for leprosy. It was universally believed that only God could heal leprosy, which is why when the King of Israel learned that the King of Syria had sent his general, Naaman the leper, for healing, remarked, "I am not God to give life or death. And the king of Aram (present day central Syria) sends this man to be healed!", 2 Kings (5:7). Eventually the prophet Elisha heard about the request and intervened. And healed of his leprosy, Naaman became a worshipper of the God of Israel.
Now, Mark writes that as Jesus continued preaching and healing throughout Galilee, a leper came to Jesus, knelt in front of Him and said to Him, "If you wish, you can make me clean", Mark (1:40). The fact of great significant is that the leper, despite being forbidden to come near anyone, approached Jesus. He willingly approached Jesus, confidently and humbly, expecting that Jesus could and would heal him. He knew that Jesus had the power to save him, but he doubted whether Jesus actually would be willing to do it for him. Then the most remarkable thing happened. Jesus reached out and touched the untouchable by saying, "I do will it. Be made clean", Mark (1:42).
Jesus was neither repulsed by the leper's appearance nor by his smell nor was concerned about the purity law that forbade Him to touch anyone "unclean" or labelled Him ritually unclean. He simply saw that the leper had a need and knew that He was able to help him, so He did. Jesus' love was real and genuine, and He acted upon those feelings. No sooner had Jesus touched the leper than the leprosy left him, and he was cured. And as a result, and from that time on, the healed man would be like the others and people would no longer avoid him. Both people and the law of God would acknowledge the healing and welcome him back to their community.
After His healing of the leper, Jesus gave the healed man two specific instructions:
Did the healed man follow Jesus' instructions? No. He ignored Jesus' instructions; he went out and began to talk freely about the healing, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter any village or town openly so He remained in deserted places. However, people from everywhere travelled to see him, perhaps only for the miracles. Thus, the man became a barrier to the work of Jesus. Jesus did not want the healed man to tell others because the time was not right. However, He knew that, once the man showed himself to the priest, the news about the healing would spread like wildfire. Jesus wanted the people to acknowledge God's power and believe in His message that He brought as the Son of God rather than to follow Him just for the miracles.
As for the second instruction of fulfilling the Mosaic requirement, it seems likely that the man also failed to carry this out, although Mark does not tell us any further details. According to the law of Moses, when a leper is healed of his leprosy, he would have to submit himself to a ritual cleansing and purging of sin in the temple. That is, the healed man must present himself to one of the priests in the temple, to be examined by him as to whether he was free of his leprosy, and also to make an offering of gifts - two live, clean birds, cedar-wood, scarlet yarn and hyssop - then shave, bathe a couple of times and get the priest's testimony as a proof to the people that the healing is genuine, before he could be allowed to mingle with people, Leviticus (14:1-4; 14:8-9).
Jesus, though He had cured the leper, still required him to be obedient to the law of the community, Leviticus (14:8-9; 14:21-22). The man's failure to observe the Levitical regulations is evident from the fact that, as the passage from Mark points out, the religious authorities began to watch Jesus' every move and, eventually, became His deadly opponents, Mark (2:6).
What is the message for us?
In this wonderful story, we are given a glimpse into the heart of our Lord Jesus. We see His compassion and His power. As a matter of fact, and from the beginning of time, God always has had mercy. It is He Who is; He never changes; His compassion for us never fails. Deeply moved, filled with compassion, filled with love, He reaches out to us and touches our hearts when we cry to Him to to be healed of any afflictions.
God does not remain a distant spectator of our suffering but He participates in our suffering. He emphasizes, and delivers us from all suffering. To be healed of our illnesses and diseases or to be made clean or to be delivered from suffering, we must commend ourselves to His mercy; we cannot demand it as a debt, but we must humbly request it as a favor. We must come to Him, humbly, with our faces to the ground, acknowledging our sin and being repentant of it. Let us be aware that, each time we receive a sacrament with faith, including receiving His Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist, the Lord Jesus "touches" and "heals" us and grants us His grace.
Wherever our Lord Jesus went, He did three things: He preached the gospel, He healed the sick and He cast out demons. Later, when He sent out His disciples to carry out the work of redemption, those whom He commissioned, the twelve and the seventy-two were charged with the same task: They were to preach, heal and cast out demons, Luke (9:2); Luke (10:9). He not only gave them specific tasks but also gave them the power and authority to accomplish them.
As Jesus' disciples, we too are equally charged with an anointing to preach, heal, and deliver. We shall continue to reach out, with our healing touch, to those who feel isolated, abandoned, detached, distanced, misunderstood, rejected, unloved, or uncared for, even by themselves, and cut off even from those they love the most. Jesus' action, in today's story, should motivate us to enter into the pain of those who are ill and suffering, and stretch out our hands as Jesus does.
Indeed, He came into this world, lived perfectly, taught His followers, healed people, cast out demons, died for sinners, and came back to life, so that we will also be "made alive because of Him", 1 Corinthians (15:23).(P) Amen.
God Bless You!