A reading from the Book of Leviticus
(Chapter 13:1-2, 44-46)
This passage describes the remedy for leprosy while the Hebrew people were wandering in the desert after their liberation from Egypt: “If a man is leprous and unclean, the priest shall declare him unclean by reason of the sore on his head…. He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.” It was a prescription for a horrible death away from a person’s family and friends. Yet, it was written in the book that was to help the priests of the tribe of Levi govern the people. It seemed the lesser of two evils, because there was no way to cure leprosy and similar diseases, and isolation seemed like the only way to prevent the disease from spreading throughout the camp. As we will see in the gospel passage, Jesus had a different approach.
“I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation.” Do you turn to the Lord in time of trouble? Most of us do, and sometimes we feel better, a little relieved. Sometimes we even find an answer during our prayer, if we are listening. But there are times, perhaps many times, when it seems as if nothing is happening, no answers, no consolation. We are living in the immediacy of our pain or worry, and we want answers, healing of some sort, right now. We need to keep listening and to be open to answers and healing; that’s true even if they are not the answers we hoped for and even if the healing is not complete but only a step in the right direction that can be celebrated, not dismissed as lacking.
A reading from St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians
“Brothers and sisters, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” I don’t think I have ever taken those words as seriously as Paul intended them, even though I have heard and read them numerous times. How about you? Do you think your working, sleeping, driving, playing, talking, give glory to God? They can. They are blessed. We are blessed. Always! Our lives give glory to God, not just when we are praying or celebrating the Eucharist but each day in so many ways that we take for granted. And our routines, which can seem boring even to ourselves, have a purpose and give glory to God. Let us rejoice that we are loved.
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Mark
“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.” Now, remember the first reading from the Book of Leviticus which reported that someone suffering leprosy was to be banished, not healed, and if you touched a leper you too would be ostracized. Jesus broke the law about leprosy and then told the man, “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.” Of course, “The man went away and publicized the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter the town openly. He remained outside in deserted places.”
This is an extraordinary story, and it is only one of a dozen stories of healings in Mark’s Gospel. But here Jesus broke a religious law and, because he touched the leper, could be considered unclean himself. Imagine how threatening this was for the religious leaders. They had a law that in effect condemned innocent people to a horrible death, and this man, this nobody in their eyes, cured him.
One thing about Jesus that stands out throughout the gospels is his power to heal both body and spirit. In his death and resurrection, he healed us from sin and from death itself, gaining for us eternal life in the presence of God. Let us pray to Jesus the healer in our times of suffering and need and, at the same time recognize and use our own power, derived from his, to heal those around us of loneliness, despair, or material need.
Image: Jesus Cleansing a Leper, Melchior Doze (1864). Public domain.
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved. The passage regarding the wedding garment is from The New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC All Rights Reserved.
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.