As a preparation for the Gospel passage, the first reading is perfect in the contrast it offers. In the first reading from Leviticus, we see an association of moral guilt with illness, painful quarantine, and exclusion from community life, and the inevitable shame that must have accompanied such a condition. We also see a cleansing ritual that could only have created suffering for the person stricken. In the Gospel reading, all these horrors are stripped away.
In the second reading, Paul is responding to those who were worried about eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Paul makes the distinction between what we consume and what we do. Our behavior toward others is more important than what we eat or drink.
In today’s Gospel, we continue to hear Mark report the miraculous healings that Jesus performed in Galilee. The Gospel begins with Jesus healing a man with leprosy. Leprosy is a disfiguring, infectious skin disease that has been surrounded by many social and religious taboos throughout history. In 1873, the cause of leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, was identified. We now know that leprosy is caused by a bacterial infection. Although it is infectious, modern medical studies have shown that transmission is more difficult than previously thought. Since the 1940’s, medical treatments have been available, and the patient no longer needs to be isolated once long-term treatment has begun.
In Jesus’ time, however, religious and social taboos dictated the behavior of those with leprosy and skin diseases. The Law of Moses provided for the examination of skin diseases by the priests, and if leprosy was identified, the person was declared unclean. People with leprosy lived in isolation from the community. They were instructed to rip their clothes and to announce their presence with loud cries when moving in the community. If the sores of leprosy healed, the Law of Moses provided a purification rite that permitted the person to return to the community.
In Jesus’ day those who had certain skin conditions were so ostracized that their illness was like a living death. People with such ailments had to live apart from the community, which added to their physical and emotional suffering. Healing these people was like bringing them back from the dead.
Theme in Our Life
Each of us have an opportunity to heal our own spiritual leprosy. We need to trust in the mercy of a forgiving God who assures us that our sins are forgiven and that we are clean. We are forgiven and made spiritually clean from the spiritual leprosy of sins when we repent of our sins, because our God is a God love and mercy. We are also called to love our neighbors as ourselves. How do we treat the outcasts in today’s society? Do we ignore them or do we act has Jesus as taught us and find ways to offer assistance and compassion? God’s loving hand must reach out to them through us. Jesus wants us to touch their lives. Let us re-examine the barriers we have created and approach God with a heart that is ready to welcome the outcasts in our society.
Preparing for Sunday
To Prepare for this Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word, consider the following:
Jesus reaches out to these outcasts. What groups do you have the most difficulty accepting?
Relate a time when you were moved with compassion toward someone who was considered “unclean.”
Describe a time when you recognized and accepted another person’s ability to help you.
Tell of a time when you were or were not able to keep good news to yourself.
Lord, thank for all of the gifts you have given us. Help us to use those gifts to help those most in need. We ask this in Jesus name. Amen