11TH February 2024
Lectionary Readings: Lev.13:1-2. 44-46; Ps 32:1-2.5.11; I Cor.10:31-11:1; Mk 1:40-45
World Day of the Sick
Theme: Jesus and the outcasts
The Gospel passage from Mark describes how Jesus heals a leper and instructs him to follow the health code of Leviticus to be proclaimed ‘clean.’ Jesus came to announce liberation to the poor and outcast. He cleansed the leper who was an outcast and restored him into the life of the community. With this act Jesus wanted to make known that nobody is to be sent out of, or excluded from the new family that He has established.
Leprosy in the Old Testament is not the dreaded Hansen’s disease of today, it was probably a form of psoriasis or eczema. Even if it was minor, it was considered a serious impurity of the skin and the poor ‘lepers’ were outcasts, put on the margins of society and had to cry “unclean, unclean.”
The gospel shows how Jesus deals with those who ought to be ostracized when a leper comes to him. The leper is very direct, “if you want you can make me clean.” Jesus was deeply moved by the man’s plight and stretched out his hand and touched him. Mark’s readers, and Jesus’ observers, would have been shocked because by touching the leper they thought that Jesus would have contracted leprosy. But Jesus answered, “I do want- be made clean, and immediately the leprosy left him”. By touching the unclean man, Jesus does not reject the purity laws, as so many commentators say, but rather he restores the man to a clean state and commands the man to present the offering prescribed by the law and so end his alienation. Jesus asks the man to say nothing, but the leper disobeys and as result Jesus must go to the desert and yet “they were coming to him from all sides.”
Let us notice that the leper and Jesus have changed places of habitation; first, it was the leper who had to live in desert places away from the community; now, it is Jesus who has chosen to live outside the communities This is to show that Jesus was willing to share the isolation and fate of all the ‘lepers’ of this world.
There are various conditions which cause us to take the easy option of excluding people whom we regard as other. In South Africa race used to be one such; HIV-AIDS is another. We can also behave in this dehumanizing way based on all kinds of other criteria: class, education, thieves…… Lent begins this Wednesday, it is a time for focusing on Jesus and how he acted. Is there someone to whom you might extend God’s reconciling hand this Lent to end their alienation?
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Why is the leper unsure of Jesus’ desire to help? 2. What is significant about Jesus touching the leper prior to his healing him? 3. Sunday is the World Day of the Sick. How can you help the sick, particularly those who feel distanced from the community?
Bibliography: Armellini F Celebrating the Word Year B (Paulines Pub. Africa 1993); Catholic Serendipity Bible (Zondervan Pub. House MI 49530); Levine A-J & Brettler M.Z The Jewish Annotated New Testament (Oxford Univ. Press 2011).
This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Marie Andre Mitchell, SNDdeN M.Th., Johannesburg South Africa. Bat Kol alumna