February 11, 2024
Mark 1: 40-45
The first reading from Leviticus describes the health precautions to be taken to prevent the spread of ‘leprosy.’ In the brief excerpt from I Corinthians Paul urges all believers to be motivated by the desire to glorify God. In the Gospel passage Mark describes how Jesus deals with the alienating condition of leprosy. He heals a leper and instructs him to follow the health code of Leviticus. Despite an apparent effort to avoid sensationalism, the news of the cure attracts still more interest in Jesus.
Leprosy in the Old Testament is not the dreaded Hansen’s disease of today, it was probably a form of psoriasis or eczema. Even if it was minor, it was considered a serious impurity of the skin and the poor ‘lepers’ were outcasts, put on the margins of society, they had to isolate themselves from the community “he shall live apart, making his dwelling outside the camp”. This was a terrible occurrence in those days when people were part of, and relied, on the community. The lepers had to cry “unclean, unclean,” so that people would not approach them and become infected.
The gospel shows how Jesus deals with those who ought to be ostracized when a leper comes to him. The poor leper is not even given a name but called by his disease. Both the leper and Jesus act in unexpected ways. The leper approaches Jesus and Jesus touches him. The leper is very direct, “if you want you can make me clean.” Jesus was deeply moved by the man’s plight and stretched out his hand and touched him. Mark’s readers, and Jesus’ observers, would have been taken aback because by touching the leper they thought that Jesus would have contracted leprosy. But Jesus answered, “I do want- be made clean, and immediately the leprosy left him”. By touching the unclean man, Jesus does not reject the purity laws, as so many commentators say, but rather he restores the man to a clean state and commands the man to present the offering prescribed by the law and so end his alienation.
Jesus came to announce liberation to the poor and the outcast. He cleansed the leper and restored him into the life of the community. With this act Jesus wanted to make known that nobody is to be sent out of, or excluded from the new family that He has established.
This miracle, unlike the others described by Mark so far and read on the previous Sundays, is followed by proclamation. Jesus asks the man to say nothing, except to the priests who can declare him clean. Not surprisngly. the leper disobeys and as result Jesus has to go to the desert and yet “they were coming to him from all sides.” Let us notice that the leper and Jesus have changed places of habitation; first, it was the leper who had to live in desert places away from the community; now, it is Jesus who has chosen to live outside the communities This is to show that Jesus was willing to share the isolation and fate of all the ‘lepers’ of this world.
There are various conditions which cause us to take the easy option of excluding people whom we regard as ‘other’. In South Africa race used to be one such (perhaps still is); HIV-AIDS is another. We can also behave in this dehumanizing way based on all kinds of other criteria: class, education, thieves…… Lent begins this Wednesday, it is a time for focusing on Jesus and how he acted. Is there someone to whom you might extend God’s reconciling hand this Lent to end their alienation?
Mark 1: 40-45
A leper came to Jesus and pleaded on his knees: “If you want to” he said “you can cure me.” Feeling sorry for him, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. “Of course I want to!” he said. “Be cured!” And the leprosy left him at once and he was cured. Jesus immediately sent him away and sternly ordered him, “Mind you say nothing to anyone, but go and show yourself to the priest, and make the offering for your healing prescribed by Moses as evidence of your recovery.” The man went away, but then started talking about it freely and telling the story everywhere, so that Jesus could no longer go openly into any town, but had to stay outside in places where nobody lived. Even so, people from all around would come to him.
The Gospel of the Lord
Meet Sister Marie Andre Mitchell, SNDdeN