The first thing that caught my attention in today’s Gospel passage is the paradox in the story of the cleansing of the leper. Jesus broke the law of purity, the law that stipulated that a person who was clean must not touch an unclean person. Jesus was clean, but he touched the leper who was unclean. Jesus, who broke the purity law, instructed the leper to obey the law that empowered the priest to diagnose leprosy and also to declare a person clean. Jesus told him, “Go and show yourself to the priest.” The man went on to break the command Jesus gave him. Jesus told him to tell no one about what happened, but he went and told everyone he met.
Why did Jesus break the purity law? Was it just for the fun of it? Remember, at a point, Jesus said that the law was made for human beings and not vice versa. Jesus respected human life, and for him, if there was any law that would get in the way of reinstating a fallen or sick human being, he was ready to break such a law. That is how much Jesus values human life.
Today’s first reading from the Book of Leviticus helps us to appreciate what Jesus did for the leper. It tells us the law surrounding a leper. This law prohibits the leper from having contact with other human beings. It was the responsibility of the leper to put on rags, ring a bell, and shout, “Unclean, unclean,” to avoid accidental contact with other human beings. Leprosy was so bad that that some people compared it to death. The Book of Job describes it as the first born of death (18:13). The pain from the isolation was more than the pain from the disease. That was the leper’s case when he encountered Jesus, and Jesus cleansed him.
Jesus performed this miracle by touching the leper. This same Jesus, at some points, would only speak his words, and the sick received their healing, and the dead came back to life. Remember, all he did for Lazarus was stand outside the tomb and command, “Lazarus, come out!” and he came back to life. But in this case, Jesus did not use only his words for the leper; he had to touch him to heal him. Why did he touch the leper? It was because Jesus felt the leper’s pain, the pain that came from his isolation. Leprosy took him away from typical human communities.
The reading does not tell us much about the nature of his life before this encounter with Jesus. Was he married? Did he have children? For how long was he a leper? We do not know, but we can use our imaginations. Imagine that he just got married, but because of the leprosy, he could no longer touch his wife. Imagine that his wife just gave birth to a baby, and because of the leprosy, he could no longer touch the baby. Imagine that he was always the life of the party, but now, because of the leprosy, he could no longer go to any party. This case reminds me of life during the recent pandemic (COVID-19). I remember how we could not have handshakes, not even at Mass. I remember how much I missed giving and receiving hugs. Jesus could feel the leper’s pains and how much he missed human touch, so the first gift Jesus gave him was the gift of human touch, through which the lepers received his cleansing.
Mark is good at highlighting the human aspect of Jesus. Before Jesus performed this miracle, Mark tells us that Jesus was moved with pity. This emotion in Jesus came from the fact that what the leper missed was the reason for which Jesus came. Jesus felt the leper’s isolation, his deprivation, and his segregation. Remember, Jesus came to reconcile heaven to earth, divinity to humanity, and humanity to humanity. Upon seeing this man, who could not mingle with other human beings, Jesus had to act immediately. Leprosy stood in the way of Jesus’ mission, so Jesus had to get it out of the way.
As Christians, we are followers of Christ. We walk in the footsteps of Jesus. The main reason for which Jesus came was for all to be one. So, a Christian who derives pleasure from segregation is a contradiction. A Christian who derives pleasure from making sure that people are not together is not worthy of the name Christian, for Jesus came that God and human beings may be one and that human beings and fellow human beings may be one. As such, the most important thing Jesus did for the leper was reinstating him to normal human society.
So, my dearly beloved in Christ, as we reflect on the cleansing of the leper today, let us pray for so many people who can no longer be in ordinary human society for various reasons, whether out of their faults or no fault of theirs, that the work of reconciliation and salvation for which Jesus came may bear fruits in their lives, to bring human beings together again, to the glory of God, and the shame of the kingdom of darkness through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.