Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said,
“If you wish, you can make me clean.” (Mk. 1:40-45)
In Mark's gospel this Sunday, we see a dialogue between Jesus and a Leper. Interestingly, my imagination focused on how the leper approached Jesus and the subsequent conversation between the two.
Remember, in our first reading from the book of Leviticus, the writer mentioned that lepers were to announce themselves with the following words, "Unclean, Unclean," when approaching anyone. Hearing these harsh words is disheartening when realizing that a sick person must degrade themselves this way. Where is the customary greeting of "Hello," or "Good morning"?
Lepers, too, were forced to practice social distancing similar to our current state in the world. What a sad situation, to be forced to disgrace yourself and have no social engagement with anyone. Lepers lived a lonely life because of their sickness. However, in telling this narrative, Mark fails to have the leper continue with the Old Testament practice. Instead of calling out those lifeless words, "unclean," the leper begs Jesus to heal him. Disregarding the tradition of the Old Testament, this leper demonstrated faith, expecting a miracle from Jesus.
The leper spoke these words, "If you wish, you can make me clean." Here, the leper shows faith in believing that Jesus can make him clean; the problem is the leper is not optimistic that this is Jesus' desire. The leper at this junction of the story learns about Jesus' compassion. He learns about Jesus' big heart and his passion for everyone should be made whole. In John's epistle, we find these words, "Beloved, I hope you are prospering in every respect and are in good health, just as your soul is prospering" (3 Jn. 1:2). So the answer is yes, Jesus wants us in good health as our soul is prospering.
When reading further in this gospel, there is even another unexpected twist. After Jesus heals the leper, the leper was to show himself to the priest to fulfill the Old Testament law. "Show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed;
that will be proof for them." In other words, before you return to your faith community, let the priest verify that you are clean. Here, the leper breaks from tradition again and does the very thing Jesus told him not to do: "Don't tell anyone what happened."
In the end, this leper had to:
Identify himself as unclean and practice social distancing,
Step out on faith and ask Jesus to remove his leprosy, and
Not tell anyone about the miracle that just happened.
For me and my household, we could not hold back on telling everyone about our miracle-working God. I will join the gospel artist Hezekiah Walker and sing, "Won't he make you Clean Inside."
Whereas the leper in Mark's gospel experiences physical healing, the real miracle is seeing this leper restored to the community. He felt free to resume everyday life, perhaps hug his family, children, and friends. The leper's excitement was overwhelming. For this reason, he told everyone because he could not wait to break free from that inhumane, insensitive social distancing practice. You know we will jump for joy when this Covid-19 pandemic is over. We, too, cannot wait to hug our family, children, and friends, free from worries.
Jesus makes us clean on the inside.
Authored: Michael P. Howard, MACS