Liam T. O'Doherty, O.S.A.
Church of Our Mother of Good Counsel
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania
Lv 13: 1-2, 44-46
Ps 32: 1-2, 5, 11
1 Cor 10: 31 - 11:1
Mk 1: 40-45
Leprosy is scary. True leprosy, what we now know of as Hansen’s disease, is a horrible disease that used to take anywhere for 7 to 30 years to kill its victims. In our day it can be treated but not cured, and many of the symptoms can be controlled through medication. In Jesus’ time the symptoms caused hideous disfigurement and pain, and in many cases caused dementia in its final stages. It made the patient an outcast. Because not much was known about medical science at the time, many other skin diseases were also classified as leprosy, even psoriasis or seborrheic dermatitis.
It was forbidden for someone with leprosy to approach a healthy person. It was also against the Law of Moses for a healthy person to touch a person with leprosy. Jesus not only welcomed the encounter with the leper who approached him, he reached out and touched him. We read:
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 Jesus told him to show himself to the priests and to offer the sacrifice that Moses prescribed for being healed.
I think that Jesus is doing a number of different things at the same time here. At least 3 things:
First of all He is showing tremendous compassion by allowing this man, shunned by the rest of society - and legally so by the existing law - by allowing him to even approach Him, and then even more so by actually extending His hand and touching him in order to heal him.
Secondly, Jesus instructs the man to show himself to the priests and do as Moses commanded. This shows that Jesus respects the Law but has come to perfect it by filling it with compassion.
Thirdly (and remember that this trip to Jerusalem to the priests involved a trip of over 60 miles to the south, probably on foot), He was sending a message to the priests in Jerusalem about the powerful things that He was saying and doing up in Galilee.
What does this have to say to us today in 2018?
Few of us probably have skin diseases that would correspond with the diseases that came under the umbrella of “leprosy” in Jesus’ day, but all of us suffer from the disease called “sin.” And in the Gospels Jesus often uses the reality of disease and healing as metaphors for sin and forgiveness, sin and reconciliation, sin and redemption.
You can think of sin as a sort of spiritual leprosy: It disfigures us. It spreads into every area of our lives. It can destroy our ability to relate to others. Sin starts small but spreads and grows, just like leprosy. And so Jesus’ action of reaching out and touching and healing this man goes much further than just another act of power and compassion; it reveals the heart of Jesus’ mission.
Jesus is Redeemer and Savior. He comes into this fallen, sin-infected world and, with the power of His mercy and grace, cleanses it and gives it a new start. And He does the same thing with each one of our lives, as often as we need it. Just as Jesus came 2000 years ago to that man in Galilee, He still comes. He comes to you and to me, not to condemn us, but to save us.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus comes to us today in this Mass through His Word and through His Body and Blood.
Let us approach Him today like this man in the Gospel, in confidence and humility - aware of our need for his compassion. Aware of our need for His power to save us, to forgive us, to heal and to make us whole.