JESUS HEALS A LEPER: A LIFE-CHANGING ENCOUNTER
LEV 13:1-2, 44-46; 1COR 10:31-11:1; MK 1:40-45
When people meet Jesus, their lives are never the same again. We see this clearly displayed in the various cases presented in the gospel of Mark for the last four Sundays. As we move further into the core of Mark’s gospel we discover more how lives are changed by Jesus. But let us remind ourselves that Mark (and the other evangelists) does not record these miracles so we can “learn to do miracles.” The miracles are meant to show us the unique nature of Jesus. They us help to recognize Jesus as the true and powerful redeemer. We are not saying that miracles do not happen today. No! Miracles keep happening. But they are not commonplace, otherwise they would not be extraordinary acts. However, they are not formulas or methods we need to learn. They are aimed at direct us to the Lord who effects those miracles. With that reminder, let us look at the account in today’s Gospel.
1. A MAN WITH LEPROSY
Leaving the home of Simon and Andrew, as we heard last Sunday, Jesus went touring the whole of Galilee. In the course of this journey he encounters a leper. “A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, ‘If you wish, you can make me clean.’” (Mk 1:40) Luke’s Gospel version further specifies that the man was “covered with leprosy”. (Lk 5:12) When the Bible uses the term leprosy, it covers a whole host of infectious skin diseases. One of the worst of these is what we call leprosy (or Hansen’s disease) today.
Leprosy is a deadening of the nerve endings so that you can no longer feel anything. The idea of not feeling pain sounds good until you realize that pain is actually a gift from God to warn us of damage or danger. When you touch a hot stove you feel pain so you pull your hand back. A leper might touch a hot stove and not notice that his hand was burning and blistering. A normal person would know when there was a rock in their shoe, but not the person with leprosy. The leper does not have these feelings. There are stories of rats chewing off the fingers of a leper without the leper knowing it. The Bible had very specific rules for those with leprosy (That constitutes the message of today 1st reading: Lev 13:1-2, 44-46). “The person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face (supposed to wear a mask like today’s anti-Covid 19 prescription requires) and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as he has the infection he remains unclean, he must live alone; he must live outside the camp.” (Lev. 13:45-46) A leper could not worship or be part of the religious community. He/she was a social outcast. He/she felt distant from God.
2. ISOLATION IN A CROWDED WORLD
In our world today, many people feel isolated. In the middle of crowded streets, populated churches and other large gatherings, we SEE many people, but we MEET none. Nobody seems to care, or have time to look and pay attention to others. Those who have various handicaps know what it is like to be ostracized. The unemployed, the less educated, unmarried moms, those who are terminally ill, the divorced, those who have spent time in jail, etc. These people know what it is like to be isolated and often without hope. In the time of Jesus, once a man, for instance, is declared a leper he could not go back and tell his family ‘goodbye’. He was never able to take his lovely wife in his arms again. He was never allowed to put his arms around those precious children of his. The man was sent away, alone. His family brought his food to a certain place and then withdrew when he came to get it. In the distance he could see his wife and observe his children growing day by day, but he would not MEET THEM. In a similar manner, the man who came to Jesus was isolated and felt cast aside by the rest of the world.
Among us, we have people, whom we treat like lepers. They may be old people abandoned by everybody; persons who belong to tribes which we have tagged as ‘bad’; we reject them simply because of their tribe. They may be handicapped people who are locked out of life’s banquet. Nearer home, the ‘leper’ is anyone whom we exclude or cut off, anyone whom we look down on or despise. That person may well be living under the same roof with us. We can reject others in small but subtle ways — by the tone of your voice or even by a look one can convey to another person that one does not like him/her, in other words, that we reject him/her. But perhaps the worst form of rejection is INDIFFERENCE. Ignoring a person hurts beyond any other state or emotion. It leaves a wound that lasts. It makes people feel worthless and makes them want to rebel (especially young people). To feel the whip of rejection causes an explosion of anger and resentment.
3. THE MEETING WITH JESUS
Somehow this Leper had heard about Jesus. He looked for a way to get near to the Lord. There is some sense of “suddenness” in his meeting with Jesus, because if others had seen him they would have made him stay away. When he approached Jesus, imagine how the crowd broke up as he came near probably crying “Unclean! Unclean!” When he reached Jesus, the man fell to the ground and with his face to the ground said “If you wish, you can make me clean.”
Imagine what a remarkable and faith-filled statement that this leper made! He was confident that Jesus had the power to make him well. He also had the faith to trust the Lord’s sovereignty. He knew that the healing was up to Jesus. HE DID NOT DEMAND. He simply made a statement. He came and presented himself to the only one who could heal him. This leper knew that WHEN JESUS IS PRESENT, EVEN HOPELESS SITUATIONS ARE NOT HOPELESS. The man could have given up. He could have resigned himself to his death sentence and lived out what remained of his life, in total isolation. But he did not do this. By all earthly appearances there was nothing that could be done. However, he trusted in Jesus. He knew two things that those who have hope must do:
a) First, he recognized that he had a problem that he could not fix. With faith he came to Jesus and said, “I am unclean, if you should so desire, you could remove my uncleanness.” A sick person cannot be made well until he/she recognizes that he/she is sick. There are many people who continue being sick, and are even dying simply because they are in a constant state of denial. We can deny our illness; we can argue that it is not fair; we can be angry. However, we cannot get help until we face the reality of our disease. Once we recognize our problem we will be ready to address that problem.
b) Second, the leper turned to Jesus. Just as a sick person needs to turn to a specialist or one skilled in treating his/her illness, so we must turn to the one who alone can address our problem of sin. Jesus alone has the prescription we need. His death on our behalf is like a life-saving surgery for the soul. He alone can cure the sin-alienation we have with God. This leper turned to the only One who could help him. And his life WAS NEVER THE SAME AGAIN!
4. THE TOUCH
What Jesus did next is staggering. “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.” (Mk 1:41-42) Jesus reached out and touched the man! In Luke’s gospel, the Greek word used in describing Jesus’ action indicates that Jesus may even have even embraced the man. Here, we need to remember that because the man had leprosy everyone had to stay away from him! Anyone who touched this man became unclean himself. Not even EBOLA Fever can be feared in this manner! Jesus could have simply spoken to the man but he chose instead to touch him and he was healed instantly. Jesus gave him back his life. He was never the same gain.
Before curing the wounded body of the leper, Jesus had to cure his wounded spirit. He had to touch the wounds caused by rejection and cure them first. By touching, Jesus made him feel that he was not worthless as society made him believe he was. He was worthwhile, even precious, to God and to Jesus. One can imagine that even if Jesus had not healed that man from leprosy at that moment, it would have still been a moment that changed the man’s life—because of the touch! Jesus’ was a deliberate act designed to convey the love of God to one who had felt abandoned. Jesus literally entered into his world. When Jesus came to earth, in Bethlehem, he entered our world. In a sense, the Lord embraced us. As Jesus reached out and healed the diseased leper, he is also reaching out to each one of us. (Unfortunately, today, this need for a TOUCH is being threatened or wiped out of human society by Covid 19.)
5. THE COMMANDS
After, the man was healed! He must have either fallen into Jesus’ arms in joy or he must have fallen to the ground on his face in reverence. Jesus gave him two commands: “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.” (Mk 1:44)
a) “See that you tell no one anything.” Jesus pleaded for the man to understand that He did not come only to be the healer. He came to be the one to reconcile lost people to their Father. Nonetheless, Jesus knew that the man was going to tell everyone. Would you not do a similar thing? When hope and life are given back to one who is hopeless, that person cannot help but tell others. This raises a question: In light of what Christ has done for us, why is it that we are so reluctant to tell others about Jesus? It would seem that it is either because we have not realized the depth of our own sinfulness or we have not grasped the greatness of God’s gift to us. If we “get it”, we cannot help but tell others.
b) “Go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.” Jesus wanted the man to go through the elaborate process to verify that he had been healed. He had to be examined by doing this “as a PROOF TO THEM.” The “THEM” refers to the priests and teachers of the Law. By going to the priests the man was testifying to several things:
i) The priest would verify that the man was truly healed,
ii) The act would testify that Jesus did not oppose the Law (as some were claiming),
iii) This act of healing testified to the religious leaders that Jesus was SOMEONE VERY UNIQUE FROM GOD. Only two prophets of the O.T. were able to cure leprosy: Moses who had cleansed his sister, Miriam (Cf. Num 12) and Elisha who had cured Naaman, the general from Syria (Cf. 2Kg 5).
6. A FEW LESSONS TO BE DRAWN:
a) in the first place, we are reminded that even when things feel hopeless, Jesus can change everything. He is the Lord of life, the Creator of the Universe; he has counted the very hairs of our heads. He can bring good from evil. He can turn darkness into light. You may have a physical infirmity; you may be facing a financial situation that seems hopeless; you may be in a relationship that seems disheartening; you may face a work situation that seems desperate; you may feel your spiritual situation is hopeless because you have turned away from God time and time again. In face of all these seemingly discouraging situations, always remember that nothing is hopeless when the Lord of life walks with you. Do not give up on him! He will not give up on you.
b) We should learn from the leper the proper approach for handling hopeless times:
i. Acknowledge that YOU have a problem. Stop making excuses, and take responsibility for your life. Face the reality that you are powerless to help yourself. Stop blaming other people or your situation.
ii. Take your eyes off of the problem and focus on Jesus.
iii. Keep doing what God tells you. Make a regular decision over and over: I will do things God’s way not my way. We must change something in our way of doing things. Imagine those patients who come to the doctor looking for an injection, an ointment, a powder, or a pill/tablet, but who are not willing to change their eating and drinking habits, the smoking, their life style, that are really the cause of their sickness!
c) Remember that true love means looking past what you see on the surface. While Jesus was healing the leper he looked beyond the surface: Where most people saw an unclean leper, Jesus saw a man with a heart of faith. Where others saw crazy people, Jesus saw people who needed to be delivered from demonic powers. Where others saw evil people, Jesus saw people who were in bondage and he worked to set them free.
If we are going to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, we must be willing to love those whom the world discards. In the words of St. Paul in the Second Reading of today (1Cor 10:31-11:1), we must “Avoid giving offense, whether to the Jews or Greeks or the church of God” In fact, we must look past the labels, the stories, and the outward appearances and see hurting people who need to be introduced to a loving Saviour. We can help bring feeling and life back to those who think life is hopeless. We pray that God may grant us an open and welcoming heart towards the many people around us who are hurting in one way or the other.