‘Be made clean’

Leprosy was a hideous, dreaded disease at the time of Jesus. It was feared as much as anything in the ancient world. As a disease, it is devastating. It primarily affects the skin, the peripheral nerves, the upper respiratory tract and the eyes. It eats away at the hands, feet and face. It causes a stench and is contagious, being spread by physical contact.

In addition to the horrible, physical effects of leprosy, there were social and religious repercussions. Because it is contagious, lepers were banned from society and forced to live in colonies outside of towns and villages. Additionally, a common perspective among many Jews of the day was that leprosy was a curse from God resulting from personal sin. So, lepers were not allowed in synagogues or the temple in Jerusalem. They had to dress a certain way and yell "unclean" whenever they neared another person.

In the first chapter of Mark's Gospel, a leper approaches Jesus, kneels down and begs Him to be made clean. This was a bold move for a leper. His actions, approaching a crowd and drawing near to a religious leader, went against all cultural and religious norms. Jesus' response is equally as bold. The Divine Physician responds quickly and generously, "I do will it. Be made clean." Notice the reference to cleansing: Jesus was indicating that He would offer physical cleansing/healing and spiritual cleansing, that is, forgiveness.

Next, Jesus does something completely unexpected. He stretches out His hand and touches the leper. How long had it been since the leper had been touched by another human being? How long had he gone without the gift of human touch that has the power to express care and warmth, bring healing and forgiveness, create bonds of trust and intimacy. The power of Jesus' touch was greatly compounded by the fact that He is the Son of God who came to this earth to reveal God's infinite love, extend God's fathomless mercy and make an offer of abundant life to those who accept the gift of faith.

In Mark's Gospel, Jesus brings this encounter to a common close by saying to him, "See that you tell no one anything …" Of course, the healed man "went away and began to publicize the whole matter." He can't hold back from sharing with the world what Jesus of Nazareth had just done for him. The Lord drew close, touched him, cleansed him of sin, removed his leprosy and sent him off to live a brand new life. He had to share the good news.

My brothers and sisters, all of us come before the Lord in a similar situation, do we not? We all stand before God, broken and hurting in certain ways, emotionally, physically and/or spiritually. Every one of us comes to Him with the curse of our sinfulness that distances us from God, and in some circumstances, actually cuts off our relationship with God. We all need Jesus to draw near, extend His hand, touch us with His healing, forgiving love, and send us back into the world with a mission of sharing His truth and love with our neighbor. "If You wish, You can make me clean."

Fr. Peterson is assistant chaplain at Marymount University in Arlington and director of the Youth Apostles Institute in McLean.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015