6th Sunday in O.T.; February 11, 2018
Lv 13:1-2,44-46 Ps 32 1 Cor 10-31-11:1 Mk 1:40-45
Deacon Jim McFadden
Last Sunday we saw that in his public life Jesus healed many sick people, revealing that God wants us to be well—indeed, that our joy may be full; that we live life to its fullness. Today, Jesus goes further by coming in touch with a form of disease that was so horrible that it caused external separation from others and internal loathing as one was
“unclean” both inside and out.
The man is desperate because the fate of the leper is as bad as it got. Listen to our first reading from Leviticus: “The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp” (Lev 13:45-46). These instructions made the leper the ultimate outsider. They are a symbol of those whom no one can help. Can you imagine that? You have a condition that places you beyond the pale—you have no hope. This is how you would live the rest of your miserable life as you face alone a deteriorating future. The mental anguish, the excruciating isolation must have been devastating. The deep pain of this horrible disease is the growing realization that no one cares: your dwelling is outside the camp, where you have no fellowship.
Brothers and sisters, have you ever experienced this kind of isolation from others and even God. Have you ever felt deformed, ugly, not good enough? When we encounter rejection, betrayal, or failure, we may go to that place where we feel that there is something about me that is repulsive and ugly.
It’s hard to love ourselves as God does. But, until we get out this “leperous” enslavement, we’ll never be free to be in genuine relationship with God and others. The leper in today’s gospel sensed that Jesus could liberate him from his external and internal affliction. He had heard about Jesus and how our Lord had healed people—how he gathered people who were excluded. So, he boldly comes forward, which in itself, broke social taboos and Mosaic law. He had faith that Jesus had the power to cure him. The question was would he? His hesitancy is whether Jesus would be disposed to do it. The leper’s self image was that he was beyond human concern and since he couldn’t worship in the temple or synagogue, God probably didn’t care either. But, the leper made a leap of faith that God does care about our condition no matter what our state may be. So, said, “If you wish, you can make me clean” (Mk 1:40).
Jesus, the Word of God incarnate; Jesus, Yahweh in the flesh, does care. His inner compassion for this pitiable, isolated being moves Jesus to reach out and touch him. As he makes him clean, he welcomes the man back into the circle of relationships with God and humanity. This cleansing is more about God’s outreach to outcasts, those on the margins, than it is about a physical healing. Indeed, it is a revelation of how God acts in salvation history.
How so? Through Jesus’ action and those words, “I do will it. Be made clean” (v. 41b), reveals to us God’s desire to purify us from illness that disfigures us and ruins our relationships. In that simple but radical touch between Jesus’ hand and the leper, every barrier between God and human impurity, disfigurement, between the sacred and its opposite, was pulled down. Through Jesus, nothing separates us from God and others. Jesus’ action does not deny the power of sin or evil, but it does demonstrate that God’s love for us is stronger than any illness, rejection, failure, or betrayal. Even in its most contagious and horrible form, God’s love can transform us into what we really are: a beloved child of God, who is made in God’s image, which is our essential identity. When Jesus touched the leper, he was identifying with the man’s oppressive condition. In so doing, he was taking on his and our infirmities. By touching the man, Jesus symbolically made himself “a leper” so that we may be made clean.
A wonderful comment on this Gospel is taken from the famous experience of St. Francis of Assisi, in which he says, “This is how the Lord gave me, Brother Francis, the power to do penance. When I was in sin, the sight of lepers was too bitter for me. And the Lord himself led me among them, and I pitied and helped them. And when I left them, I discovered that what had seemed bitter to me was changed into sweetness in my soul and body. And shortly afterward I rose and left the world” (FF, 110).
In those lepers whom Francis met when he was still “in sin,” Jesus was present; and when Francis approached one of them, overcoming his own disgust, he embraced him. In so doing Jesus healed him from his “leprosy,” namely his pride and self-absorption, and converted him to the love of God.
Sisters and brothers, this is the kind of healing that awaits us. Do you believe that Jesus can heal you of your “leprosy”? Do you believe that Jesus can transform your condition and convert you to the love of God? Do you believe that Jesus wants to do that for you? If you do, let Jesus touch you. Let him bring profound healing to your life so that you may fully share in his resurrected life!