He is willing, so be cleansed!

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46

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."

1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1

Brothers and sisters, Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. Avoid giving offense, whether to the 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.

Mark 1:40-45

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 cleansing 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.

The story of the healing of the leper in today’s Gospel Reading is full of marked contrasts. It begins with a touching scene. A leper who is socially isolated and forbidden to come close to people (rf Lev 13:46, Nm 5:2) directly approaches Jesus, kneels before Him and begs Him with a heart-rending request. His boldness and trust in Jesus (leprosy was then considered curable only by divine power rf Nm 12:10-15, 2 Kgs 5:1-14) are met by the pity and power of His touch and word. Then the scene turns into exhilaration. The leper is so exhilarated by his cure that he ignores Jesus’ stern warning not to tell it publicly. The leper who has to live “outside the camp” (rf Lev 13:46) is freed and restored to community life while Jesus who is free before is now unable to “enter the town openly” and has to “stay in desert places” (Mk 1:45), suffering the isolation of a leper.

But more than these apparent contrasts are the hidden contradictions of Jesus and the Law. The Law cannot help the leper. It is powerless to cure him. It can only tell him where to live, how to dress and what to shout (rf Lev 13:45). But Jesus can – “If you are willing, you can make me clean” (Mk 1:40) – and with this imploration of faith, the leper is made clean. The Law gives the priest the authority to pronounce the leper clean (rf Lev 14:1-20, Mk 1:44), but it is Jesus who has the power to make him clean. Not only can Jesus effect physical cleansing, for if leprosy is thought of as a sign of sin, then Jesus also has the power to actuate spiritual cleansing (cf Mk 2:1-12, Mt 9:1-8). The Law guards against potential defilement in order to ensure ritual purity (rf Lev 13, 14, Nm 19), but Jesus opens the door of mercy to people that may defile Him – He touches them (rf Mk 1:41, 5:41). And instead of getting Himself defiled, Jesus’ touch which is an outward expression of His inward compassion, brings deliverance, healing and restoration.

Sin is like leprosy. What leprosy does to the body, sin does to the soul and a leprous soul resembles that of a leprous body. As leprosy gradually deforms the body, makes it insensitive, dysfunctional and eventually destroys the whole person; sin acts the same way. It progressively enslaves the soul, eats away and goes deeper into its being, separates it from God and eventually leads it to eternal death. As leprosy defiles everything a leper touches, sin infects the soul and poisons a person’s thoughts, words and deeds. As leprosy leaves a person alone, helpless, despised and rejected; sin locks the soul in darkness, guilt, shame and despair. But while leprosy which has no human cure before is now treatable, sin is incurable by any human means. It can only be cured by the sacrificial blood of Christ on the cross (rf Mt 26:28).

Blessed indeed if we are aware that we are spiritual lepers for early detection of the disease renders easier recovery. Imitate the leper then: be brave to approach the Lord, be humble, fall before Him, entreat Him with sincere contrition, acknowledge that He needs not grant our petition, but be confident, surrender to His will in good faith and then . . . be ready to receive His touch and hear Him say, “I am willing! Be cleansed!” (Mk 1:41).

Posted: February 11, 2018

May Tam

May Tam, Bachelor of Social Science (University of Hong Kong), Master of Theological Studies (University of Toronto)

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