Made Clean

A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said,
“If you wish, you can make me clean.”
Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand,
touched him, and said to him,
“I do will it. Be made clean.”
The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.
Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once.

He said to him, “See that you tell no one anything,
but go, show yourself to the priest
and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed;
that will be proof for them.”

The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter.
He spread the report abroad
so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.
He remained outside in deserted places,
and people kept coming to him from everywhere.
(Mark 1:40-45)

Scripture Study

1:41–42 At the sight of this wretched man, Jesus is moved with pity, a verb denoting a strong emotional reaction. As the bystanders look on with astonishment, Jesus stretches out his hand and touches him. But Jesus is not defiled by the leprosy; instead, his touch and word instantly make the man clean. The power of Jesus’ cleanness—his holiness—is invincible. Because no defilement can contaminate him, he is able to remove defilement from all those who approach him in faith.

1:43 Verse 43 could be interpreted to mean that Jesus sternly charged and dismissed (literally, “cast out”) not the leper but a demon, presumably one that caused the leprosy. His command, See that you tell no one anything, seems surprising. Why would he not want this healing to be publicized, since he himself is traveling around proclaiming the good news of the kingdom? It is the first clear instance of what biblical scholars have called the “messianic secret” in Mark: Jesus’ insistence on concealing his identity and mighty works during the time of his public ministry.

1:44–45 Jesus tells the cleansed man to show himself to a priest and offer the sacrifice prescribed for cleansing from leprosy (see Lev 14), showing his respect for the law of Moses (Mark 7:10; 10:3; see Matt 23:2–3). A priest’s pronouncement of a clean bill of health will allow the man to reenter society and participate once again in temple worship. The prescribed rite was to take two clean birds, one to be sacrificed and the other, dipped in the blood of the first, to fly away free (Lev 14:3–7). If the man complied with Jesus’ word, he might have discovered a symbolic image foreshadowing Jesus’ own sacrifice and helping him understand more deeply what Jesus had done for him. But for now, he is unable to contain his delight. Ignoring Jesus’ injunction, he begins to publicize the whole matter and spread the report. Mark uses Christian terminology, literally “preach a lot” and “spread the word,” drawing an unmistakable parallel with the joyful evangelistic preaching of Christians who have been cleansed by Christ in baptism.

As a result, it becomes impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. Ironically, Jesus has now taken on himself the leper’s previous status: the healed man is free to return to human society, but Jesus must remain outside in deserted places to avoid being mobbed by people seeking to benefit from his miraculous powers. He has healed the man with leprosy at a cost to himself—just as later in the Gospel he will take on Barabbas’s status as a condemned criminal, while Barabbas goes free (15:15). 

Scripture Reflection

Friends, our Gospel for today has to do with Jesus’ healing a leper. There aren’t that many lepers around today, but there are plenty of people that we treat as outsiders or pariahs. Like Jesus, we should be welcoming to them. Now I have nothing particularly against that way of reading the situation, but I suspect that we’ve all heard it a thousand times.

Let me propose a symbolic reading a little different from the customary one. I propose that the leper here stands, not so much for the socially ostracized, but for the one who has wandered away from right worship, the one who is no longer able or willing to worship the true God. That’s why Jesus tells the man to “go show yourself to the priest.” In other words, go back to the Temple from which you’ve been away for so long.

What is so important about worship? To worship is to order the whole of one’s life toward the living God, and, in doing so, to become interiorly and exteriorly rightly ordered. To worship is to signal to oneself what one’s life is finally about. It’s nothing that God needs, but it is very much something that we need.

– Bishop Robert Barron

May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.     

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