… join the leper at Jesus’ feet and pray, “If you will, you can make me clean.”
– Lamar Williamson (Mark) p. 62
The readings for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time cycle B (mark 1:40-45) can be found here.
The Biblical historian will explain that leprosy is a sign of the wrath of God. If you were stricken with the skin disorder it was clearly a sign that God was punishing you.
One story that clearly illustrates this comes from 2 Chronicles 26:16-21 where we meet king Uzzi′ah. He was prideful, false before God and his anger led to his inevitable destruction. The king contracted leprosy and “they thrust him out quickly, and he himself hastened to go out, because the Lord had smitten him.” Uzzi′ah died an outcast due to his leprosy. Cursed by God, lepers were the lowest people in the Jewish society.
In our Gospel this Sunday Jesus heals a leper by touching him.
The scripture scholar will tell you that Leviticus outlined the rituals and sacrifice needed for a leper to enter back into society. Until these requirements have been met a leper was not allowed to be seen in the midst of the people, let alone touched.
The 1st century Jewish attitude toward leprosy is something all scholars agree on, but the emotional response of Mark’s Jesus continues to spark lively debates. I would be remiss if we did not speak to this scholarly debate in the homily.
The actual words (in Greek) used to describe the emotions of Jesus vary depending on the manuscript. Most manuscripts use the word pity to describe the emotional response of Jesus. A few manuscripts, however, use the word anger to describe Jesus’ response.
The USCCB online text of our Gospel reading represent the general understanding that Jesus is moved by “pity” and cures the leper. The alternative “anger” is likely the authentic word used by Mark, so it deserves to be explored.
The best explanation I have found comes from F. Scott Spencer in his book Horizons in Biblical Theology, Volume 36, Issue 2, pages 107 – 128
A close analysis of Mark 1:40-45, in conjunction with key Markan co-texts (6:14-29; 10:35-52; 14:32-36; 15:6-15) and ancient and modern theories of emotion, demonstrates that the leper chiefly provokes Jesus’ ire by belittling his deep desire or will to heal (ἐὰν θέλῃς).
Once Jesus heals the leper He summarily dismisses the man by showing him the door. Alan Goertemiller puts it this way: “There! Show them that healing comes from a loving touch, and not punishment and demanding ritual!”
What are we to think of an angry and dismissive Jesus? Rabbi Dr. Earl A. Grollman explains that he “was taught as a child, angry thoughts make bad people. Wrong. Angry thoughts make very human people.”
Jesus was human, after all, and we should learn a lesson of compassion from these Gospel verses. Jesus touched and healed a leper. He may have responded in anger, but He also responded with compassion.
It may have been bad form for the leper to question Jesus’ will to heal, but that didn’t stop Jesus from touching the man and healing him.
God heals, but we may often be the essential intermediaries through whom God’s will is accomplished, whether that means a curing of the body or a healing of the spirit, whether we are medical practitioners, chaplains, or loved ones. This means that each of us has a responsibility as well as a response-ability.
– Christina M. Puchalski (A Time for Listening and Caring) p. 209
In the Jewish community healing has two components; physical healing and spiritual healing. Jesus cured the leprosy and the physical health was restored, but Jesus also knew to send the man to the temple to perform the sacrificial examination and rites to enter back into the Jewish society so that the spiritual health could be restored.
As Church we have an obligation to be a conduit of compassion for Jesus to our society. If you take one thing away from this homily it should be to remember that there will be times when we get angry but we cannot forget to be compassionate. In our compassion we must also remember to heal the person both physically and spiritually.
Who pushes your buttons? Who gets on your last nerve? Who should we touch and heal?
If it were easy anybody could do it, but it is hard so we will leave it to those who folow Jesus.