The Leper is cured
MARK 1: 40–45
Today’s gospel narrates a powerful encounter of a leper approaching Jesus, on his knees, with a most unusual statement not previously encountered in Jesus’ ministry; “If you want to, you can cure me.” (Mk 1:40).
What is unusual about this statement is that it is not a request for healing. The leper does not ask Jesus to be cured. Instead, he announces what he believes—that, Jesus can cure him, if He so chooses.
The word ‘leprosy’ in Jesus’ time was used for a broad range of skin conditions. Some were considered communicable diseases and were incurable. Leprosy was one such and it was greatly feared. It was also regarded as a punishment for sin, a divine plague.
The leper was ostracised and he was required to live in isolation. Leviticus 13: 45–46 states “a man infected with leprosy must wear his clothing torn and his hair disorderly…he must …cry unclean, unclean as a warning for others to keep away. As long as the disease lasts he is unclean; and must live apart…outside the camp.”
The leper, in approaching Jesus “on his knees”, (Mk 1:40) demonstrated the highest form of worship, reserved only for the Lord. In so doing he recognised Jesus as Lord and Messiah.
“On his knees” is affirmation of the leper’s faith in Jesus as healer; he knows that Jesus has the power to heal. He is also affirming that he knows that a cure from Jesus will bring complete restoration; spiritually and socially. Spiritual restoration means that he will be able to resume worship in the synagogue and social restoration restores him to community living and with his family.
The leper’s statement, “If you want to….” is more a statement about Jesus in that the leper knows that Jesus is a healer and that he has healed many who were sick of diverse diseases, yet he is uncertain whether Jesus would heal him.
He knew also it was up to Jesus to decide whether and whom to heal or not heal. His words involve a mingling of faith and distrust. He believes in the power of Jesus to heal; he does not as yet believe in Jesus’s will to heal him.
Jesus’s compassion for the leper is visible; he stretched out his hand “and touched him” (Mk 1:41). Once again the touch of Jesus in his healing ministry, in stark contrast to the way everyone else treated a leper. It not only transformed the leper to wholeness but it did not render Jesus unclean for touching him. We see nothing of the leper transmitting his uncleanliness to Jesus; instead we see Jesus transmitting his wholeness and holiness to the leper that made him cured and clean.
How many of us, like the leper, know Jesus as healer, know that He has healed and continues to heal many, may even know of persons who have been healed through prayer; yet in our time of need we doubt that He will do it for us. We need only to embrace Jesus’ response “Of course I want to… Be cured.” (Mk 1:42) and like the leper, receive healing.
The narrative continues “and the leprosy left him at once” (Mk 1:42). The cure is immediate; it is complete and transformative. Again, we see Mark’s attempt to show that wherever Jesus went and whomever he touched, His power was transformative. The leper is cured at once.
The leper is sternly ordered “…say nothing to anyone”, Jesus was not ready to have His identity revealed as the people were not ready for this; however, there is something about Jesus’ touch that makes one whole that one just can’t contain so, in disobedience he spreads the good news. He “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” (Mk 1:45).
“Go show yourself to the priest…” (Mk 1:44) implied that Jesus was not opposed to the Law; He came to fulfil it. The sacrificial offering was to be made to the priest who is the person to determine the healing and restoration.
This narrative began with the leper forced to live “outside of the camp” (Lev 13: 46) and ends with his restoration to the community while Jesus is forced to move outside the town for fear of being thronged by the people. Circumstances were reversed. Still, the people came to Jesus.
The Gospel Meditations for February are by June Renie, a retired law librarian and a graduate of the Catholic Bible Institute. She is an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist at St Anthony’s parish in Petit Valley.