HOW WOULD JESUS WANT US TO TREAT THE LEPERS OF OUR SOCIETY?
(A biblical refection on the SIXTH ORDINARY SUNDAY [YEAR B], 11 February 2018)
Gospel Reading: Mark 1:40-45
First Reading: Leviticus 13:1-2,44-46; Psalms: Psalm 32:1-2,5,11; Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1
The Scripture Text
And a leper came to Him beseeching Him, and kneeling said to Him, “If You will, You can make me clean.” Moved with pity, He stretched out His hand and touched Him, and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And He sternly charged him, and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to any one; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to the people. But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in the country; and people came to Him from every quarter. (Mark 1:40-45 RSV)
Leprosy in biblical times was not the dreaded disease we know by that name today but was any white, crusty patch on a person’s skin. The people in Jesus’ day considered eczema and skin diseases like it to be leprosy.
According to the Jewish faith, lepers were ritually unclean. This did not mean they were sinful or dirty but that they could not worship in the Temple or offer sacrifices there. Lepers also lived outside the city walls and cried out “unclean, unclean” whenever someone came near them. Anyone who touched a leper was also unclean.
Because leprosy prevented the person from associating with others, especially in public worship, today’s first reading instructs the leper to rend or tear a piece of clothing, an ancient Jewish sign of grief.
A person who recovered from the leprosy first met a priest outside the city walls and if the priest found the leprosy had indeed cleared up, the leper would take a ritual bath and then offer certain sacrifices to God. The type of sacrifice depended on the person financial ability. Only after washing and offering the sacrifices could the person return to the city and worship with he rest of the community.
Notice that in today’s Gospel reading Jesus not only associates with the leper but He also does something the ordinary person would not dare do. Jesus stretches out His hand and actually touches the man, healing him on the spot. Jesus then instructs him to show himself to the priest and to offer the appropriate sacrifices in the Temple.
Notice also that Jesus tells the man not to say anything to anyone about being healed. We find this messianic secret, as biblical scholars call it only in the Gospel according to Mark. In no other Gospel does Jesus perform a miracle and then instruct the person not to make the incident public. Scripture scholars do not know why Jesus does this or why the same or similar stories in the other Gospels do not contain this detail.
Lepers were the people society shunned in Jesus’ day. Who are the outcasts in our own society today? How would Jesus want us to treat these people?
Source: Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 168-169.)
Prayer: Heavenly Father, Jesus shows Himself to be One who comes to outcasts and marginal people, such as lepers. By Your Holy Spirit, make us faithful disciples of Jesus. Amen.
Jakarta, 9 February 2018
A Christian Pilgrim