Let's take a few minutes to revisit this week's Gospel (Mark 1:40-45) and notice a few interesting details.
Because of his apparently-contagious skin disease, the leper was an outcast from the Jewish community. Today's First Reading from Leviticus 13 explains that anyone with leprosy was considered “unclean.” Like all lepers, the sick man in today's Gospel had to dwell apart from society, tear his garments, keep his head bare, and warn everyone he met of his outcast status by crying “Unclean!” He had no access to Jewish religious rites and probably felt abandoned by God in the midst of his physical and emotional suffering. Further, his fellows Jews tended to view leprosy as a punishment from God, and they probably figured that this man must have been some great sinner to have contracted this horrible disease.
The Leper's Risk
The leper knew that he was not supposed to approach Jesus. He was breaking Jewish law by coming anywhere close to Him. Yet he took the risk. Why? He must have have heard about Jesus and about the healing He had bestowed on so many sick people. He must have hoped that maybe, just maybe, Jesus could heal him, too. It was enough to take the chance, even if he was risking rejection and punishment. He knelt down before Jesus and begged Him, “If You wish, You can make me clean.”
Pay close attention to these words. The leper made a statement of fact. He didn't say, “Can You make me clean?” or “Perhaps You can make me clean.” He didn't even use the imperative request “Please make me clean!” He simply stated a fact: “Jesus, if You want to, You can make me clean.” The leper had faith that Jesus could could heal him, but he left the choice to Jesus. He simply placed himself before Him and surrendered himself to His will.
Jesus didn't reject the leper. He was moved with pity for him. The Greek word translated as “pity” here connotates compassion, a suffering with someone else. Jesus felt the leper's pain deeply. He understood his fear and suffering, and He reached out and touched him. This gesture revealed Jesus' great love for the man. H could have healed him without touching him, but He chose to share even more deeply in the leper's condition. In fact, touching the leper technically made Jesus unclean, too.
As Jesus touched the leper, He said, “I do will it. Be made clean.” And the leper was made clean.
Jesus then gave the former leper some strict instructions. Don't tell anyone about this, He commanded, but go show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifice Moses prescribed. This would confirm the healing and readmit the man into his proper position in Jewish society.
The now-clean man disobeyed Jesus and spread the word of his healing everywhere. Why? He was certainly not being malicious. He just couldn't keep this great event to himself. He let his feelings, his joy, take hold of him. He wanted to praise God for the wonderful thing that had happened to him. He just couldn't help it; he was so happy. His discretion seemed to have left him along with his leprosy, but we can't blame him too much. He had just been cured, and he wanted everyone to know about it. Further, he wanted everyone else who was sick to experience the same healing he had received.
The man's actions had consequences for Jesus, however. He could no longer go openly into cities and towns, for He was drawing huge crowds, crowds that would make civil officials nervous and suspicious of a possible political uprising. So He remained in deserted places, and the crowds came to Him, seeking healing and wholeness. And the deserted places became fruitful.