The Cleansing of a Leper. 40 A leper[a] came to him [and kneeling down] begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” 42 The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. 43 Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. 44 Then 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.” 45 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. (Mark 1:40-45 New American Bible)

This gospel is a story of risks, reversals and joyful disobedience.

In the times of Jesus, lepers were outcasts, condemned to live in isolation, ostracized from family, community, worship, marginalized even from hope.  Levitical law required them to live in isolation and to remain a safe distance from the healthy in order not to spread their contagious disease.  Some believed that leprosy was God’s punishment for sin.

But the leper in Mark’s gospel is strikingly bold.  He disobeys Levitical restrictions and comes so close that Jesus can touch him.  “If you choose,” he tells Jesus, “you can make me clean.”  Without hesitation, with compassion, boldly, even recklessly Jesus touched the leper and said: “I do choose.  Be made clean.”  Immediately, the leprosy left him.  He ordered him to tell no one about this miracle, but to present himself to the priest to confirm that he is clean.  The man disobeys.  He does not go immediately to the priest.  He does not remain silent to the miracle.  Instead, he went out and proclaimed it everywhere.

By contrast, Jesus reversed places with the once leprous man.  Jesus, who had traveled freely everywhere, now was forced into isolation to avoid the crowds.  He now was forced to the margins.  In other words, Jesus took the place of the man he made clean.  Love always says and does what is necessary and works out the consequences later.

There is another reversal to consider.  By touching the leper, Jesus should have been contaminated.  However, it is not the leper who is contagious, but Jesus.  The leper does not transmit his disease to Jesus, but Jesus who transforms the leper to wholeness, and makes him clean, medically, spiritually and socially.  The Franciscan spiritual writer, Richard Rohr, says “pain that is not transformed is transmitted.”  Jesus lovingly touched his isolation and pain, and transformed him.

We are called imitate the leper’s bold faith and Jesus’ loving touch.  Like them, It demands of us that we risk crossing barriers and boundaries of convenience and comfort zone in order to reach out to the other, the one living in pain or anxiety.  Such faith begins by sitting in the presence of God, surrendering our will to the will his, as we sit and gently whisper the words:  “I do choose.”

How can I choose today? Where are my choices in my life?


Reflection Copyright Deacon Manuel Valencia
Photography Copyright 2018 by Michael J. Cunningham O.F.S.

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