SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Year B : 12 February 2012
Today’s gospel comes immediately after Jesus
has been preaching throughout Galilee, as we
heard last Sunday. No name of person or place
The term leprosy was applied to many chronic
diseases of the skin including those known to
us as eczema, psoriasis, etc. Leprosy (Hansen’s
Disease) could well have reached Palestine,
having begun to spread west from India about
300 BC. Today’s first reading makes it clear
what leprosy meant in the Law after the disease
had made its first mark. It was thought to be
like death: the leper bore the signs of mourning:
torn clothing, dishevelled hair, etc. Physical
contact with a leper made a person legally unclean,
so he was a religious and social outcast. The
reason was perhaps that it was a highly contagious
disease without known cure, but the result was
that a person was excluded from all society
in the name of God. If healed, the leper had
to go though rites of purification, sprinklings,
baths and sacrifices offered, as discussed with
a priest, not necessarily in the Temple since
there were priests living in many places.
The leper approaches Jesus, and instead of
saying ‘Unclean’, he asks to be made clean.
He has no doubt that Jesus can heal him if he
wants to and he kneels in a mixture of hope
and reverence. The Messiah would ‘give for mourning
robe the oil of gladness’ [Isaiah 61,2]. Some
of the manuscript versions suggest at this point
that Jesus reacted with anger as well as with
compassion. If right, it might illustrate the
deep sorrow felt by Jesus at illness and suffering.
In either case the depth of his feeling overcame
the clear command in the Law that a leper was
not to be touched, which meant that Jesus, a
devout Jew, became legally unclean. This touch,
in breaking the Law, was audacious, even scandalous.
Once again, the strong feelings of Jesus seem
to ‘boil over’ as he sternly orders the man
to go show himself to a priest, perhaps because
people wanted to have signs and miracles rather
than listen and believe. Although now unclean
himself, he tells the man to keep silent about
how his cure has come about and to fulfil the
Law. The man ignores the first command and we
are not told if he keeps the second. The first
command is the ‘Messianic Secret’ that Mark
is so fond of, that no one will know who Jesus
is until after his death [except us, who have
been told, and the spirits, whose sources of
information are well placed].
The result of it all is that Jesus now has
“to stay in places where nobody lived”. Last
Sunday they said: “Everyone is searching for
you.” Today he becomes the new outcast, and
we know that it will only get worse for him.
• ‘A leper came to Jesus and pleaded on his
knees. “If you want to, you can . . .”’ This
is his great, perhaps his last chance. His
need is great. His hope is strong and he is
aware of the power of Jesus. If only. Jesus
reacts to his outburst of faith. Could I find
in his example a way to set about prayer?
• No one would have faulted Jesus if he had
turned away from the outcast as society expected,
but he does the unimaginable. Being actually
touched must in itself have contributed to
the healing in this case, apart from the power
of Jesus at work. As with Simon’s mother-in-law
last week, we are reminded of the power that
works through our touch. It can of course
be a power to heal or to hurt.
• Is there anybody who might have reason
to feel excluded because of my word or actions?
• The Lord Jesus continues to heal through
the sacraments: the Anointing of the Sick;
the Blessed Eucharist where He comes in person
to heal and guide; the Sacrament of Reconciliation
(Confession) where through the ministry of
the Church He focuses his power on the area
of weakness in my life for which I ask healing.
• Part of the healing for
a leper involved being accepted back into the
community, on the declaration of the priest.
Is the Lord pointing to the importance for me
of belonging to and being a functioning member
of the People of God?