FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
Today’s Gospel passage presents one of the first miracles of Jesus recorded by Mark in his account of the Gospel, the healing of the leper. To have a good appreciation of what Jesus did for the leper, we need to go back to the first reading, which explains the plight of lepers at that time. They were segregated, and isolated. They were expected to ring a bell and shout “unclean, unclean,” as a warning to healthy people to stay away from the path of the lepers. The pain from segregation complicated the pain from the disease. Leprosy was seen as death, and to cure a leper was as good as raising the dead. In the Old Testament, only two prophets healed lepers. The first was Moses who healed his sister Miriam (cf. Numbers 12), and the second was Elisha who healed the Syrian general, Naaman (cf. 2 Kings 5).
The leper in today’s Gospel passage took a big risk by showing up in public, and by approaching Jesus. But that was an expression of great faith. It was a sign of his belief in the fact that the authority of Jesus was greater than any human rules and regulations, and also greater than the power of the disease. Jesus proved him right by stretching out his hand to touch the leper. Instead of being contaminated by the disease, power flowed from Jesus to the leper. It is like the relationship between light and darkness. The light always overcomes darkness. No matter how dark it is outside the room, when there is light in the room and you open the window or the door, darkness will not come into the room, rather, light will stream out of the room and overcome the darkness outside the room.
As children of God and as followers of Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we must not be known for segregation. If we truly have the light of God in us, people should be attracted to us and their encounter with us should always make them better than they met us. In our families, schools, places of work, markets, etc, there are people who other people avoid for whatever reason; considering how the leper found a friend in Jesus, can such people find a home and friends in our Christian communities today?
Jesus gave the leper a great gift by re-integrating him into normal human society. But why did Jesus warn him not to tell anyone about it? Scripture scholars call this “Messianic Secret,” and it is a common feature in Mark’s account of the Gospel. Here, Jesus does something great and warns the recipient of the favor not to say it out. There is a deliberate effort by Jesus to manage the news about his identity because the people were not ready for the correct understanding of the identity of the Messiah. Jesus wanted to nurture them gradually into maturity.
The people of Israel had been expecting the arrival of the Messiah for many centuries. The prophets told them the signs that will accompany the arrival of the Messiah: the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will walk, the lepers will be cleansed and the dead will be brought back to life. In addition to these signs, the people had a distorted notion of the Messiah. They were expecting an earthly king, a man of God who would solve all human earthly problems, a general who would lead them in physical battles and free Israel from all foreign powers. But Jesus the Messiah had a different mission. The cleansing of the leper at the beginning of his public ministry was meant to send the signal that Jesus had come to introduce a new Kingdom where there will be no segregation, where all will be one in God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. This will go through a process that is planned by God, and that is beyond human reasoning. If human beings got to know the true identity of Jesus as the Messiah at that early stage, there was the fear of them struggling to twist the arm of God along the line of their human agenda.
Unfortunately, in spite of all the efforts invested and the gradual education of human beings that God’s plan for us is greater than any earthly comfort, people still continue to measure the love, and the power of God based on earthly standard.
Recently, specifically on the 9th of January this year, the personal doctor of Pope Francis died of COVID-19 complications. There was a post about it on Facebook, and someone commented on the post, “Where was your Hail Mary when your doctor died? You claim to worship God, yet your God couldn’t save your personal doctor from ordinary virus.” Such distorted notion of religion is not new, it is only unfortunate that some people continue to resist growth. About two thousand years ago, the death of Jesus was seen as a failure on the path of God. But in reality, Jesus went into death to defeat death and transform the meaning of Christian death from a hopeless end to a glorious transformation.
Jesus did not come to this world for us to remain in this world forever. All the miracles he performed were pointers to the greater things awaiting us in heaven. St. Paul says, “But as it is written, eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). Physical ailment is not the sign of divine failure, earthly poverty is not the sign of divine failure, and physical death does not limit the power and love of God. Remember, God’s ways are not our ways (cf. Isaiah 55:8ff) and as Elizabeth Kubler Ross puts it, “It is not the end of the physical body that should worry us. Rather, our concern must be to live while we are alive.” May God help us to use the things of this world in a way that will find us a place in heaven, through Christ our Lord. Amen.