Last Sunday, as we saw, Jesus cured many sick people including the mother-in-law of Peter. Today, he carries out another kind of cure, the cure of the leper. This is one of the distinguishing acts of Jesus in the gospels in contrast to the Jewish religious authorities of his day. While these leaders distanced themselves from lepers, Jesus embraced them and established solidarity with them as seen in his visit to “Simon the leper” (Matthew 26:6). Hence, he identified with religious taboos in order to remove their sources. The condition of the leper was such a pitiable one. The person was a pariah in the society. He was like a person held incommunicado, virtually excommunicated from the society to avoid ritually contaminating others.
In the first reading of today. Moses in Leviticus 13 gives a detailed description of what qualifies, and what does not qualify as a leprous condition. Here, the law vests the priest with the responsibility of diagnosing what constitutes leprosy, and entrusts him with the decisions on precautions against contagion. Such norms acquire a religious value as a discernment of what is impure. For that reason, it is the Lord himself who directed Moses to tell Aaron that when someone has such leprous conditions, the priest shall declare the person unclean (Leviticus 13:1-3).
The leper in today’s gospel (Mark 1:40-45), was the epitome of defilement. Hence, he was an unclean person par excellence; a first class ritual dirt in Israel. It is only Jesus who could have cleansed him. Jesus is not afraid to touch the leper, because he knows he cannot be contaminated by his impurity; on the contrary, he will be the one to give new strength to the leper. Secondly, by his divine power, he really entered into the isolation of the lepers and cleansed them, without himself being contaminated. He will share the exercising of his power with his apostles; when he was sending them out on their divine mission, he included the power to cure leprosy in their mission. He asked them to heal the sick, to raise the dead, to cleanse lepers, and to drive out demons (Matthew 10:8). By this, Jesus wants his disciples to adopt the same attitude that he has with regard to the rejected. Jesus interacts quite often with people whom according to the Jewish leaders, he should have avoided. As the holy one of God and agent of God’s reform, he is authorized to cross boundary-lines, and blur classifications. In his oneness with the Father, he radiates the aura of special holiness and power, that his touch can cleanse even the worst impurity, and so, he makes sinners, holy, and the sick, wholesome.
By cleansing the leper, Jesus offered him what he terribly needed which was a super ritual detergent to become whole again. In curing the leper, Jesus offers a prophylaxis that goes beyond ordinary ritual purification. He offered the leper what no priest or religious authority in Israel could have offered him because none of them could have done this. Instead of a mere religious ritual, Jesus offered a medical solution which was what the situation demanded. He offered a fundamental and permanent remedy to the situation. While the old Testament priest quarantined lepers, Jesus brought them out from their quarantine. From the place of isolation and desolation, he brought them to the place of consolation and hope. He removed their despair and disparaging condition and brought happiness and joy to them. In a sense, he wiped away every tear from the eyes of the leper. He removed suffering and cured his sickness and restored his dignity as a human person. In this way, the source of his derision and scorn was permanently removed. He moved from non-person to person again. He was made whole. In this way, Jesus teaches us that Christianity is not a shrine but a practical religion; a religion of empathy and compassion. This is what it means to love your neighbor.
Applied in our present situation, in healing the leper, Jesus shows us what he does with us in times when we are in sin. The state of sin is more contagious. It ravages and is very destructive to the entire community. As Jesus frees lepers from leprosy, so does he forgive and frees sinners from their sins. That is why he asked the leper to go and show himself to the priest. In the same ways, Jesus asks us when we are in the state of sin, to go and show ourselves to the priests through the sacrament of reconciliation.
Jesus does not do anything independent of his priests. In the Catholic Church, we receive forgiveness as well as all graces through the Sacraments and acts of Mediation. Let us, therefore, use the Sacraments to grow in the life of grace. Having received the immense love of God in this way, let us do everything to the glory of God and give no offense to anyone (1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1).
May God give us the Spirit and grace to follow the ways of Jesus now and forever. Amen