Both the first reading of today and the Gospel, speak about leprosy. I have often wondered why this particular sickness is mentioned. I am sure that people suffered from different types of ailments, yet leprosy seems to have had such an impact in the times of the Old and the New Testament. There is a reason for this. Leprosy was considered the ultimate sign of being unclean. It made the person an outcast both socially and religiously.
Lepers were not allowed to live in the city. They had to live on their own, away from everyone else. They were considered cursed by God. If they to go to town, they would have had to carry a bell. They would constantly ring the bell as they walked and cried out “Unclean, Unclean”. Stay away from me because I have a very contagious disease.
We can only imagine how these people felt. It is true their bodies were covered with sores. It is true they were horrible to look at. Above all these people were aware that they were the rejects of society.
No one would get close to them. They had no hope of establishing personal friendships. They lived their lives alone, constantly struggling to exist. Their bodies might have been hurting, but their spirits must have been crushed. Imagine trying to live with these attitudes. Nobody wants to know me. Nobody cares for me. Nobody wants to get close to me. I am totally on my own.
This is the person who came to Jesus. In today’s gospel, St. Mark tells us that this man approached Jesus and knelt before him. Jesus had compassion for him. How could Jesus express his compassion? He did something that other people never did. It might have been a very simple gesture, yet it made this person feel, perhaps for the first time in a long time, cared for. Somebody did care. Jesus touched him. No one ever dared to touch a leper because touching a leper meant that the person doing the touching would also have been considered unclean and rejected by society. Jesus wanted to make us understand that giving hope to a person is worth every sacrifice and every effort. Once the leper was touched, he was also healed.
“The leprosy left him at once’ and he was cured.” Leprosy in the Scriptures is an image of sin. An important question for us to ask is, where does sin go? When Jesus forgives our sins, what happens to them? Do they just evaporate?’
St. Mark is a man of few words and he chooses them carefully.
He is not interested in leprosy. He is writing to teach us that Jesus is the hope of the new world that has come down from heaven. He shows us that Jesus slowly takes hold of us and heals us.
Leprosy does to a person physically what mortal sin does spiritually. It makes him unclean, it makes him ugly, it cuts him off from the community and, finally, it kills him. Likewise, mortal sin makes the sinner unclean, ugly, cut off from the community and spiritually dead. Some people think there is only a physical side of humanity, no spiritual side. Of course, physical sickness is easy to notice. But some people believe that everything is fine and good as long as they are physically fit and healthy. This is only one side of truth. We also must be spiritually fit and healthy. If not, we won’t be happy! Nothing will fulfill us.
We have a deep longing for God, a deep desire for a spiritual relationship with God, giving us spiritual fulfillment. Nothing will satisfy us! Wealth, health, beauty, freedom of responsibilities, nothing. Our souls long for spiritual fulfillment and we will never be truly happy without a spiritual life.
Our humanity, our lifelong commitments, building relationships, our family life, motherhood, fatherhood, love and respect, are founded from our spirituality, our love, God.
The famous poet and playwright Oscar Wilde said this about Jesus:
“Jesus understood the leprosy of the leper, the darkness of the blind, the fierce misery of those who live for pleasure, the strange poverty of the rich, and the thirst that can make people drink from muddy water.”
The only way a leper could live was to beg for money and food. If anyone was crazy enough to touch a leper, they would contaminate themselves and be excluded from the community for a certain number of days, after which the priest would examine them and, hopefully, declare them clean.
The leper in the gospel had such faith in Jesus that he dared to come within arm’s reach, when in fact he should not have come anywhere near him. He says: “If you want to…you can cure me.”
The leper came to Jesus and fell to his knees. He was pleading for a cure. His soul felt the compassion of Jesus and he was confident of his power. Jesus immediately felt sorry for him. He had come to restore, to heal, to make whole and so without hesitation he does the unthinkable, he: “stretched out his hand and touched him. And the leprosy left him at once and he was cured.”
Neither disease nor sin is part of God’s plan. The leper’s sins were forgiven, just as his body was made whole. He was so happy, so relieved, and so healthy.
The consequences for Jesus are serious; he is now known to be ritually unclean because he touched the leper and he: could no longer go openly into any town but had to stay outside in places where nobody lived.
So, who is the leper now? It is Jesus who bears the punishment of this disease. He becomes a leper without leprosy – as he became a sinner without sin – so that we might live. Can you see now what happened?
At the end of the story, Jesus is the outcast and the leper is cured. We begin to realize that the world of Christ is full of wonder.
The compassionate loving Jesus is the representative of the Father Himself.
As long as we walk in His path, there will be nothing to fear, and only praise, glory and everlasting life at the end of this journey.
Jesus wants to clean us, and take our sins on Himself, he wants to cure our leprosy of sin through the sacrament of Reconciliation, sacrament of Penance where God touches us individually. His grace brings us back to our community, to our family. Come to Him with humility and sincerity and you will be filled with His spiritual love.