A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, ‘If you wish, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, ‘I do will it. Be made clean.’ The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. He said to him, ‘See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them’ (Mark 1:40-44).
This Sunday’s Gospel of Jesus healing a leper is one of the most popular stories of Jesus’ compassion. It is also a call to Jesus’ followers to use their compassion to identify with the marginalized of society and be willing to associate with the “unclean.”
Leprosy is a chronic illness caused by bacteria in the bloodstream that leads to skin lesions. In first century Jewish culture, ritual impurity was passed on when a sick person touched a healthy person. The healthy person then became “unclean” and had to undergo ritual cleansing before being re-admitted to the temple. Jesus’ decision to touch this man had both medical and social consequences.
Jesus’ miracle is a great reversal: Jesus does not become unclean or ill, but the leper is made clean. Jesus does not respect the social barrier between himself and the leper. Instead, he destroys it with a touch and restores wholeness to the man.
The kingdom of Heaven, the image of society where each person is welcomed and respected, is a central theme in all of Jesus’ preaching. To follow his example and build this kingdom on earth, we must be willing to “touch” all people, literally and emotionally, because this is what builds true community.
Has someone on the margins of society ever asked you for help? How have you reacted?
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International