A depiction of Jesus healing an unknown man with leprosy reflects the Gospel for Feb. 14 in which Jesus is “acting in the person of God.” Photo from Shutterstock.com
A depiction of Jesus healing an unknown man with leprosy reflects the Gospel for Feb. 14 in which Jesus is “acting in the person of God.” Photo from Shutterstock.com
Gospel reflection for Feb. 14, 2021

“If you wish, you can make me clean.

This request of Jesus from an unnamed leper provides the hearer of the Gospel with a further insight into the ministry of Jesus. We are still in the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel so in a sense we are still becoming familiar with Jesus and his work, and certainly the same is true of his disciples. As such we should be startled by this encounter. Given the socio-religious restrictions on the activities and movements of lepers, it is almost unimaginable that one would have the courage to approach a stranger, even one who is already earning a reputation as a miracle worker, to speak with him. The leper’s plea takes us beyond the healings that Mark reports that Jesus has already performed. He connects his quest to Jesus’ will, which serves as a recognition on his part that Jesus is acting in the person of God. We have been seeing clues throughout this chapter that Jesus is God and now another clue is set before us.

The immediate response of Jesus – here translated as “moved with pity” – carries many different meanings. Jesus is not merely feeling sorry for this man, and certainly not in a condescending way as the word “pity” often suggests. As he often does, Jesus takes upon himself the sin and the affliction of the leper and moves to exorcise the evil which surrounds him. It is possible to see in this passage a response similar to that of Jesus’ response to the faithless crowd gathered around Martha and Mary at the death of Lazarus.

This leper seeks healing on many levels. Along with whatever physical pain and disfigurement this man suffered, he was ostracized and treated as an outcast and as a great sinner. He suffered the indignity of total separation from the religious community, and from his family, as he was permanently “unclean” according to the Mosaic Law. Anything or anyone he touched took on a temporary state of being unclean.

But then we hear: “[Jesus] stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, ‘I do will it. Be made clean.’”

A healing from leprosy is always deeper than a physical restoration, and it is the multi-dimensional elements of such a healing that Mark seems to emphasize in his telling of this event. First, though, we see that because Jesus strongly states: “I do will it” making this clearly an act of God. The leper sought God’s will and not his own, and God responds by exercising his will to restore this man to health and wholeness. Yet, this healing is not for this man alone. Those who witness this healing see the power of God at work in Jesus. Those who have heard Jesus preach on the immanence of the Kingdom see yet another sign that the Kingdom of God is overcoming the power of Satan in the world.

As Jesus touches this leper he should, according to the law, now be unclean yet the exact opposite occurs here. Jesus not only remains clean he absorbs and takes away the uncleanness that afflicts this leper. In taking on this leper’s uncleanness and his sinful nature Jesus is foreshadowing the cross. In a subtle, yet very clear way St. Mark is presenting his theology of the meaning of the cross to us. Jesus takes upon himself the sins of the world and carries them to the cross making of himself the perfect sacrifice to the Father. The Lord is “moved with pity” expressing the depths of his compassionate love for us and the desire to bring us to healing and to wholeness. The visceral nature of his reaction, signifying the presence of evil in the world, shows the power of the Kingdom of God breaking into the world.

As we begin our Lenten journey this week, let us strive more earnestly to seek God’s will and not our own, and to find in the cross the hope and promise of our salvation and redemption. As we seek our own healing from the Lord – and each of us is in need of some healing in body, mind, spirit, in seeking a restoration in the midst of brokenness, and courage in place of fear, we do so humbly first seeking to understand more fully God’s plan and will for us. We need to place before the Lord the totality of our broken selves and allow him to carry them to the Cross.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.