February 15, 2009
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. (Mark 1:40-42)
Lepers were the ultimate outsiders in the time of Jesus. They are symbols in Scripture of those whom no one would help, of those without hope. A leper who was left alone to face his or her deteriorating future experienced terrible isolation. The pain of leprosy left the person with the growing realization that no one cared. What hope the leper has when he hears that Jesus cares about people like him. His faith is that Jesus has the power to make him clean. His fear is that Jesus will not want to do so. The leper’s self-image is that he is beyond human and divine concern. Jesus is filled with compassion for this isolated human being and so Jesus restores him to good health and to his community.
Today we know that what the people suffered in Jesus’ day were very serious skin problems, but not leprosy. Hansen’s disease (leprosy) only became evident in about the 10th century. The lesson in today’s gospel is not about the disease but about the compassion of Jesus. Who do you know right now that is being treated like a leper? Who is ignored or excluded by you, your friends, or maybe even your family? As a disciple of Jesus, what can you do in order to make that individual feel cared about and loved? Remember these words of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, “Your heart will tell you what to do.”