Lev 13:1-2, 45-46
Ps 32: 1-2, 5, 11 R/. You are my refuge, Lord; with deliverance you surround me.
1 Cor 10:31-11:1
Our Gospel passage for today may well be short, but it’s really quite packed with content. If we take a closer look at it, we can see four different movements that take place: first, the leper begs Jesus for help; second, Jesus heals him; third, Jesus sends him to the priest; and fourth, the healed leper proclaims his good news freely.
Mark is intentional in these different movements, because they’re an important part of the message he’s trying to share with us. That’s because the story of the leper is our story! If we go back to the first reading: for the Jewish community, a leper was considered sick beyond hope, and for the health and safety of others, a leper couldn’t live with the rest of the community. Lepers were to be banished. That’s what it meant for a Jewish person to be unclean; they couldn’t participate in the social and religious life of the community.
As I said, the leper’s story is our story, because each one of us, as a consequence of our sins, has been banished from the Kingdom, from God’s community; sin has made us unclean. But our uncleanliness isn’t a hopeless one like that of the Jewish lepers, because we have access to Jesus, who can heal us.
You see, if you remember, in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus began His ministry by reading a passage from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah and applying it to His life and ministry. He said: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free (Lk 4:18).
Jesus came to set us free! He came that we might have life and have it in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10). It’s this gift of abundant life that He shared with the leper in today’s Gospel, and it’s this same gift that He so deeply desires to share with each one of us!
So how can we have access to this gift? Well, here’s why the rest of the story is important. First, like the leper, we must ask Jesus to heal us, to free us, to give us new life. Jesus said: Behold! I am standing at the door, knocking (Rev 3:20). He’s right there, waiting for us to open up to Him and invite Him in. Jesus, if you choose, you can make me clean (Mk 1:40). And we know from this Gospel passage and from the Cross, that Jesus doesn’t hesitate to choose to heal us when we give ourselves to Him and trust in His love and mercy. That’s the second movement.
In the third movement, Mark tells us that Jesus sent the healed leper to the priest. This is how Mark shows that Jesus obeyed the Law from the first Reading, and even worked within it. Jesus continues to work in this same way today in the Church. That’s why He gave Priests the power to forgive sins. And so in a sense, we can see in this passage a foreshadowing of Confession.
And finally, in the fourth movement, the cleansed leper shares the joyful news of his healing with everyone. Now at first glance this appears to disobey what Jesus told him: say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest (Mk 1:44). But I think that this is more related to Jesus’ respect of the Law, and that this command is linked to his visit to the priest. It’s not that Jesus doesn’t want the leper to proclaim the good news, but that Jesus desired him to give thanks to God for the cleansing before he begins to share the news (cf. Lk 17:11-19).
This applies to us today, too. When Jesus heals us and frees us of our ‘leprosy’, we, too, need to humble ourselves before Him in thanksgiving before we go forth to share the joyful news with others. Because this healing is a gift of God’s mercy, a gift of His grace; one that we did nothing to merit, but that He freely gives out of love for us, and this love needs to be acknowledged first.
But, after giving thanks, we must go out and share with others the joy of our salvation. Being healed and freed by God is definitely Good News, and it should be shared with conviction and zeal. This is our mission as Christians; this is our mission as a people healed by God through the waters of Baptism. That’s why the dismissal at the end of Mass always has some form of ‘Go forth’, because we’re called to go out and proclaim the Good News of our salvation to the ends of the earth, so that others might come to know the healing love of Christ Jesus.
Jesus came to heal and save all people, and He’s chosen to include us in this mission; may we, by His grace, joyfully and faithfully carry it out. Amen.