From The American Bible Society:
February 12, 2012
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary time
This is a reminder to continue in your daily Lectio Divina Scripture reading. We’ve included the content again for you, to make it easier for you to continue to engage with God’s Word.
I DO WANT TO … BE CLEAN!
Mark 1:40-45 (Good News Translation)40 A man suffering from a dreaded skin disease came to Jesus, knelt down, and begged him for help. “If you want to,” he said, “you can make me clean.” 41 Jesus was filled with pity, and reached out and touched him. “I do want to,” he answered. “Be clean!”42 At once the disease left the man, and he was clean. 43 Then Jesus spoke sternly to him and sent him away at once, 44 after saying to him, “Listen, don't tell anyone about this. But go straight to the priest and let him examine you; then in order to prove to everyone that you are cured, offer the sacrifice that Moses ordered.” 45 But the man went away and began to spread the news everywhere. Indeed, he talked so much that Jesus could not go into a town publicly. Instead, he stayed out in lonely places, and people came to him from everywhere.
It does no matter too much what the Jewish community meant by the word “leprosy.” It could be the terrible sickness we know, or perhaps some other serious skin disease. What really matters is that it implied something much more serious than a simple physical ailment. Those who suffered from leprosy were not only sick, but labeled as an “unclean” member of the community. This, in turn, brought with it another full set of evils against which one needed protection: isolation, rejection, estrangement even from your relatives and friends, feelings of inner impurity, these were among the first moral consequences. Then, there was the fact of living outside of the camp and having to deal with scarcity of food, the dangers of wild beasts, inclement weather conditions. The only–and, of course, much milder-similar situation we can find in our modern society is that of people with AIDS in the 80’s. It was not only a mysterious fatal condition, but it also carried the stigma of a way of life which was deemed morally disordered and which, for that reason, would have deserved such dire “punishment.” As was the case with leprosy in Israel, the fear of contagion meant isolation and alienation of the sick. It is in this context that we must set the healing performed by Jesus in today’s Gospel. It is not only a question of a miraculous sign to underline his divine power: according to the Jewish tradition, only God himself could cure leprosy. It is also something even deeper. Jesus’ compassion is not the feeling of someone who acts mercifully but “at a distance,” as you might do when dealing with a leper, the unclean par excellence. Jesus’ mercy means sharing the man’s suffering and, at the same time, breaking the Law (“he reached out and touched him”), thus sharing his uncleanness. Besides, to really set the leper free in all senses. Jesus told him to see the priest and be declared officially “clean” so that he might be healed both physically and morally. But there is more to the miracle than these details, important as they may be. The leper began to talk too much and spread the news everywhere. Did the evangelist write the following lines just to tell us how Jesus began to be recognised as a man of God? Let us not be naive, nor misunderstand the ultimate meaning of this passage from the Gospel. The reason why Jesus “could not go into a town publicly” was not because he did not want to receive honor and praise for healing the leper, or because he feared the authorities. Probably, the real reason was that, by having touched the man, he had become unclean himself, and had to share his fate: “he stayed out in lonely places” as any other person with leprosy should do. In the end, there is an even deeper Christological message: “By becoming a curse for us, Christ has redeemed us from the curse that the Law brings” (Galatians 3:13). Becoming man implies sharing human nature in all its dimensions, even the curse of leprosy. “
Every society or human group creates its own “caste of lepers,” rejected or excluded because of the color of their skin, their religion, nationality, sex, social, educational or economic level, or their political preference. The fact is that in our modern civilized society, respectful of human rights and politically correct, the discrimination or exclusion of “others” does exist. At a more limited level (your family or work place, your small religious community), can you detect people who are systematically, if not restrictively, ignored, avoided, “forgotten”? In your personal case, who are your own open or hidden political, religious, social, sexual, racial or professional “lepers”?
Pray for those who are socially discriminated against or excluded for any reason: that they may find acceptance, care and love in their milieu. Pray for yourself, not only for a heart open to everybody, but for the ability of sharing the fate and suffering of those who are isolated or estranged.
“He hardly looked human… There was nothing attractive about him...We despised him and rejected him… We ignored him as if he were nothing…” Those sentences, taken from Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12 and applied to the Suffering Servant, to Christ himself, can be the starting point for you to try to find if there is some program to help people in similar situations, and the possibility of enrolling in it or cooperating in some way. Do not despair if there is nothing practical you can do. Think then about your humble, limited, personal actions.
Reflections written by Rev. Fr. Mariano Perrón Director of Inter-Religious Affairs Archdiocese of Madrid, Spain