February 11, 2018
And a leper came to him beseeching him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And he sternly charged him, and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to any one; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to the people.” But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.
I’d be willing to bet that everyone in here at some point has known someone in their lives who they considered different. And some people can be different in a very positive way. Others can be different in a negative way.
I can remember back in grade school; I had a friend who was different because he had a growth spurt very early in life and was quite a bit larger than the rest of us at the time. But at the same time, he was quiet. He moved kind of slowly and people, because of the way he moved, the way he responded, and so one and so forth, thought that for some reason, I guess, that he was mentally challenged. But he wasn’t. He was actually an honor student. But kids being what they are, he was picked on by everybody. And he didn’t respond in a negative way. He was different but in a very positive way.
Now my friend moved away. I think it was in the 5th grade. And, through the magic of Facebook, you can reach back and find people that you knew. And I have found, at some point, where he was a very successful businessman up north now. So, again, different in a very positive way. But, I, myself, would NEVER have moved from Texas. But like I said, he was different.
So, let’s look at the Scriptures today. Again, you see different in a positive way, and different in a negative way. Different in a negative way is the way that the lepers were treated. How they were isolated from everyone, even their families. And how they had to comport themselves by calling themselves unclean. And everyone treated them in a very negative way. But at the same time, we hear of a very positive difference in that is Jesus.
Jesus was different. He was born of a virgin. He was found in the Temple at 12 years old, teaching. His introduction into His ministry was different than what anyone else was introduced into their ministry. He actually went out and found His own disciples. Whereas rabbis at that time waited for men to come to them to teach. His miracles were different. His message was different. And His healings were different.
And that’s kind of what I want to touch on here because quite often, Jesus healed differently. He didn’t just stand back and command that someone be healed. And, actually, our first introduction into that was last week. You may have missed it. If you remember, Jesus went into the house of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed, sick. So, Jesus could easily have stood back and said “Arise. You’re healed.” That’s not what He did. He went over, and He reached out, placed His hands on her and helped her to stand. And immediately she was healed through His touch.
There’s also, if you remember, the story of the woman with the 12-year hemorrhage. How was she healed? By reaching out and touching Jesus. And then the man who was blind from birth. Jesus kneeled down and with His spittle and some sand made a little mixture, reached out, touched the man, rubbing it on his eyes and immediately the man was able to see.
Jesus healed so many. He touched so many that St John actually said that if you were going to record all the miracles of Jesus, there would not be enough volumes to contain them.
We hear this weekend in Mark’s gospel of a leper who comes and kneels before Jesus. Now this, in and of itself, this act by this leper is very, very strange because the leper is breaking the law by approaching Jesus. Our first scripture from today from Leviticus says that the law that was given to Moses said that a leper had to come and present himself to the priest, and if the priest considered him to be unclean, or to be leprous, then this man had to rend his garments, uncover his head, and to call “Unclean, unclean” so that people would know he was sick. And then he was also condemned to live on the outside edges of society, whether it be a camp, a city, or wherever they may find themselves.
Now, the sad part of this is that in those days, leprosy was considered just a skin problem. You could have a terrible rash. You could have the measles. You could have chicken pox. Or you could have true leprosy. Real leprosy was, and still is, an absolutely terrible disease. Today we know it as Hansen’s Disease. It affects the whole body, causing fatigue, great fatigue, terrible pain in the joints. And eventually, these terrible sores called pustules would rise. The body would actually begin to decompose while you were still alive. Can you imagine your body dying while you are still living in it? And so there would be this foul order. Your voice would deteriorate because of the sores that would come up in your throat. You would lose the feeling because of the analgesic effects of this disease so that you wouldn’t necessarily feel a cut, or a puncture. And that cut or puncture could become infected. And once it became infected, after that, the body parts would begin to fall away.
I’m not going to belabor all the ugly effects of this terrible disease other than to say, if they were lucky, they would be dead in 9 years. After having lived 9 years in utter isolation, no human touch, always in pain, you get to die an extremely painful death. And that’s why they were required to make sure that their head was uncovered so you could not hide your illness by covering your head. People would know that if you were calling out “Unclean, unclean”, to stay away from you. But one of the other side effects of that was that if they heard, “Unclean, unclean”, they would pick up stones to make sure that they could drive you away from them so they would not get the disease themselves. Families had funerals for their loved ones while their loved ones were still alive.
It was the leper’s hopelessness that drove him to Jesus that day. The desire to end this isolation and desperation with the only one who could possibly offer that. And how often do we hear Jesus in the gospels say, “Your faith has healed you.” As he approached Jesus, Jesus doesn’t flee. Jesus doesn’t flinch. And the man comes to Him. And he kneels down, and he begs Him. And he says, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” That sounds like faith to me.
What Jesus does next is again, what makes Jesus different in a very positive way. He reaches out to this unclean leper, who Mosaic Law says you do not touch. He reaches out His hand and He touches this man. Can you imagine the feeling of this man, who probably had not had a touch from another human for years – what that must have meant to him? And yet, Jesus reached out and touched him. It says He was moved with pity, He stretched out His hand and He touched him, and said to him, “I do will it; be made clean.”
So, honestly, we could end this homily right here. It would be absolutely the shortest homily I have ever given. So, calm your excitement. I am not ending the homily here. But we did, I think, pick up some very interesting stuff about how Jesus was different – as a child, as a man, as a rabbi, as a preacher and as a healer. And also, understanding that faith is very, very important in that those healings that Jesus did – Peter’s mother-in-law, and then all of those people who came that evening to be healed by the touch of Jesus. The woman with the hemorrhage, the paralytic who was dropped through the roof of a house where Jesus was visiting. And there’s so many others, especially the leper in the gospel today.
So, you can go home and prepare for this really confusing Wednesday that is coming up, when Valentine’s day crashes into Ash Wednesday – the secular and the holy. We know the holy always wins, right? So, Valentine’s Day gets celebrated Monday or Tuesday. Ash Wednesday is Ash Wednesday.
But there is, I think, a hidden gem in this gospel that, if we ended (the homily) here, we might miss totally. When Jesus spoke, He was not just speaking to those who were standing in front of Him, but also to all of us who came afterwards. When he tells the man, “Go, and show yourself to the priest” – the man who has been in isolation who is coming back to the church, and Jesus is giving him instructions. Many of us, many people that we know have been separated from the Church. So, let this coming Lent be that opportunity to come and show ourselves to the priest. Leprosy isn’t as prevalent as it was at one time. We can be very thankful for such a debilitating disease to be no longer as rampant as it was. And, I hope as we prepare for this coming Lenten season, the season of reconciliation, that you aren’t unfortunate enough to become ill. But it doesn’t mean that we are not ill, of our own form of leprosy, which comes in the form of sin.
Remember, I said earlier the effects of leprosy. But listen to what sin can do. It affects our whole body – addiction to drugs, alcohol, greed, sex, any number of things. It can be an analgesic, and it can stop us from feeling for others, and even for ourselves. It can affect our voices, losing our ability to communicate with our spouses, our families, friends, and even with our God. It can disfigure our personas, making us ugly to those around us. But it can also kill our spirits, causing the stench of our own refusal to accept responsibility for our actions, and allowing the taking of the most innocent of lives through abortion and euthanasia.
On Wednesday, we come here to receive our ashes – to join ourselves to all who are seeking reconciliation with God, symbolically donning our own sack cloth, acknowledging that we are unclean due to the sin we commit, just as the leper was unclean. But, also, just like the leper, we have faith that we can kneel before Jesus and say, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” And we know, He is going to reach out His hand, and He’s going to touch us, and He’s going to say, “I do will it; be made clean.”