Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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.

Few diseases caused greater fear in the ancient world than leprosy. For a Jew in Israel, it meant that you were unclean, which meant that you could not participate in worship at the Temple. Indeed, lepers were required to announce themselves as they approached others with the exclamation, “Unclean! Unclean!” so that people could avoid coming close and risk catching the dreaded scourge. This is not dis-similar to the way people acted toward those with HIV or AIDS not long ago. We’ve also seen people react aggressively to those who aren’t wearing masks during the current pandemic. No one wants to get sick, of course. But, concern for one’s own safety can sometimes lead to a severe lack of compassion toward others. Such was the case for lepers in Jesus’ day. The restrictions and social ostracism lepers suffered, based on the Law of Moses, were fierce, not to mention the horror of the disease itself. People simply were not willing to take the risk.

So, that a leper would even approach Jesus was striking. His faith that Jesus could do something, and would do something to help him must have been quite strong for him to overcome the restrictions placed on him by the Law and by society. Notice that he does not ask Jesus to heal him, but to make him clean. His great desire was to worship God in the Temple. In order to do so, he must be clean, and he must be shown to be clean according to the requirements of the Law.

Jesus is moved with pity. Other translations say He is moved with compassion. The word compassion (com = with; passion = suffer) means to suffer with. Jesus understood the man’s suffering. He experienced the man’s suffering in His gut, which the ancients regarded as the seat of emotions and caring (we modern Westerners would say the heart is the seat of such, and some translations of this pericope reflect that). In other words, what Jesus felt for the leprous man He felt deeply. Moved so, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched the leper! Now, Jesus here has crossed a line that no other would have crossed in His culture. Knowing the leper risked much in approaching Jesus, His deep compassion for the leper has moved Him to respond with risk, as well. Now, Jesus would be rendered unclean and a threat to those around Him. But, wait! No, Jesus remains clean. He remains pure. He remains untouched by the leprosy. How so? Because the leper is no leper now. With His touch of the leper, Jesus has transformed the social expectations of His day. With His words, “I do will it. Be made clean,” Jesus has transformed the life of the man who was once unclean but is now clean. This is what Jesus does. With His touch, with His words, with His life lived in perfect obedience to the will of the Father, and with His sacrifice on the Cross, Jesus transforms our lives.

Do not fear to approach our Lord. He is good and gracious and eager to touch us with His grace and heal us with His words.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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