In today’s Gospel Jesus heals a man afflicted with leprosy. In the ancient world “leprosy” referred to a number of infectious skin diseases, not only the leprosy that is now known as “Hansen’s disease.” Because these diseases were visible, disfiguring and contagious, those afflicted were shunned and forced to live apart. The biblical prescriptions for those so afflicted are given in today’s First Reading. These were precautionary measures to keep the disease from being transmitted. The ancients did not know about germs and bacteria, but they knew from experience that touching people with open sores often resulted in contracting the disease. The biblical prescriptions add the notion of being ritually unclean, meaning such a person could not participate in public worship due to the physical contamination that was evidenced by such diseases. Coming in contact with anyone or anything which was “unclean” rendered one also unclean.
With this background one can see that Jesus is very bold when he touches the man in today’s Gospel to heal him. He was not content only to pronounce a word of healing; he acknowledges the man’s dignity by touching him. His touch has the reverse effect from the biblical prescriptions mentioned above. Jesus does not become unclean by touching the afflicted man; rather, the man is made clean by Jesus’ touch. With his healing the man’s dignity is restored and he is able to return to the community after being certified as clean by the priests. Jesus tells him to fulfill the law of Moses so that his healing may be officially recognized and his status in the community restored.
The “cleansing” of the leper reveals Jesus’ power to save. For him physical healing is usually accompanied by spiritual healing—the forgiveness of sins. Later on in Mark’s gospel Jesus teaches that true “defilement” comes not from external things that one touches or eats, but from the sins which one commits from the heart. It is from these that we must be saved. Perhaps this is why the response to today’s First Reading is not a psalm about physical healing, but a psalm that expresses joy for the forgiveness of sins. “Be glad in the Lord and rejoice you just; exult, all you upright of heart.” (Psalm 32:11)
Lent begins this week on Ash Wednesday, February 17. The regulations for fast and abstinence on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent are found elsewhere in the bulletin as well as the schedule of Masses and services for both parishes. Of course everyone is welcome to any of these Masses.
While fasting and abstinence are good Lenten penances that enhance our self-discipline, they go hand in hand with works of charity or almsgiving. The children of our diocese traditionally have their “mite boxes” in which they may put a daily offering. These proceeds now go to the Missionary Childhood Association, a papal missionary society. We have something similar for adults called Operation Rice Bowl. The idea is that what we save by fasting or “giving something up for Lent” we can use to feed the poor. So this weekend and on Ash Wednesday you are invited to take home a “rice bowl” into which you can put these daily savings or, as I do, just write out a check at the end of Lent. These proceeds go to Catholic Relief Services, an agency of the United States Catholic Bishops. This international relief agency is often first on the scene when major catastrophes occur around the world. So let’s all—child or adult—make a difference as we strive to grow in holiness and charity this Lent.
Pray the Rosary this week for people seeking reconciliation with God and the Church this Lent. As always, pray for peace.
May God bless his people with peace.