A leper came to Jesus and pleaded on his knees: ‘If you want to’ he said ‘you can cure me.’ Feeling sorry for him, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. ‘Of course I want to!’ he said. ‘Be cured!’ And the leprosy left him at once and he was cured. Jesus immediately sent him away and sternly ordered him, ‘Mind you say nothing to anyone, but go and show yourself to the priest, and make the offering for your healing prescribed by Moses as evidence of your recovery.’ The man went away, but then started talking about it freely and telling the story everywhere, so that Jesus could no longer go openly into any town, but had to stay outside in places where nobody lived. Even so, people from all around would come to him.
Throughout Mark’s Gospel Jesus encounters people who by virtue of their illness are considered to be unclean. They are social pariahs, outcasts who are denied familial and communal relations, cut off from their family and friends. This was especially true of those who suffered from leprosy. Not only were they forced to live apart from their community but according to Mosaic Law they had to forewarn others by shouting “unclean, unclean” (Lev 13:45).
In this encounter the leper breaks this rigid social taboo. Jesus does not shy away from him. Rather he is moved with pity for him, deliberately touching and healing the disease, restoring both the man’s health and rightful place in society. While social boundaries were crossed Jesus was mindful of the established religious practice and observance and so asked the man to show himself to the priest as proof of his ‘clean state’.
Like the leper we too have afflictions that set us apart from others, especially sin. Although we may never suffer from physical ailments that make us social outcasts, we become isolated in our lives in an emotional and spiritual sense. Rather than turning away from God as so many do, we must turn to him, knowing that he will be forever compassionate and the source of healing in our lives.
Anthony Cleary : Director, Religious Education and Evangelisation