Mark 1: 40-45
Fr. John Tran
Today’s first reading is from the Book of Leviticus. If I was a Law-abiding Jew of Jesus day, I would not at all be surprised by what I read in this selection from the Book of Leviticus. I would say, yes, the leper must be separated from the healthy community and dwell apart from it. The leper must announce this condition of being unclean, so that I would not be ritually contaminated and unable to practice my faith fully. I certainly would not go near the leper, the one who is unclean.
The Law-abiding Jew in Jesus’ audience would not have been prepared for what Jesus did when this leper remarked to him, “If you wish you can make me clean.” They might have expected Jesus to ignore him, or at best pronounce a blessing from a safe distance and throw over alms. As a Law-abiding Jew, I would be absolutely astounded and troubled that Jesus “stretched out his hand, [and] touched him.” Jesus would also be unclean.
Let’s look at this exchanged. The leper did not really ask Jesus for a cure. He simply stated the fact that Jesus could cure him if he wanted to. He did not say, ‘please cure me,’ nor did he say do it now, hurry up. As someone who had faith in Jesus, he just made his observation and was willing to wait for Jesus good pleasure. He did not assume; he did not fidget or anxiously squirm around, he was not in a rush; he did not demand. He calmly waited for Jesus to recognize him and give an answer.
I wonder if I, a practicing Catholic, would be so calm when I ask something of Jesus. I might tend to whine, to ask as if the thing is my right, to want it now, this minute. In our culture today, we act in this way often without a thought. Everything has to be immediate; there is not patience for waiting even in a check out line. If I e-mail you, you are expected to give me an answer right away. Its like a cultural and spiritual virus all around us today. It is not easy to take St. Paul seriously as he writes to the Corinthians: “avoid giving offense, whether to Jews or Greeks or the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in every way, not seeking my own benefit, but that of the many, that they might be saved.” The point: act in such a way that many may be saved.
Michael Kirwan, a long-time member of the Catholic Community Worker Movement in Washington, DC, who was highly respected for his work of feeding and caring for the homeless in that city, once told the story of how he began his work. “One night I brought down a large gallon plastic jug of split pea soup and set it down on the cement block near the heating vent where the poor and the homeless people gathered. A rather rough looking fellow picked up the jar of soup by surprise and, in one motion, broke the jar over my head.” Instead of running away, I asked the man why he had done that. These were probably the first words I had ever spoken to any of them. He told me that I was doing nothing more than bringing food to the dogs. I was bringing food, setting it down like I was feeding them out of a pet dish and then just walking away. He said, “Talk to us. Visit us. We don’t bite.” “From what happened that night,” Michael said, “I realized that these men and women on the street only wanted to be loved and respected and listened to. They cared that someone cared about them, but just giving food and a blanket was not enough.”
In today’s Gospel, by healing a leper, Jesus gives the same message of reaction against the unjust and inhuman religious and social isolation of lepers in his society or any one in our day that we ignore and treat as outcast. Yes, the leper and Jesus are models for us. The leper by observing as one with sure, confident faith, not demanding; Jesus who embodies the sure courage to do what was right, despite others expectations. We should say with St. Paul: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” But what more does Jesus call us to in his encounter with this unfortunate man in this gospel? How can we be like Paul and be imitators of Christ? As we take in and ponder Jesus words, our hearts will tell us what is asked of us in our own situation. Even in a monastery, there can be those we consider an outcast; they are seen as only a problem, not the Christ we are to meet. We are called to stretch into being Christ ourselves to that person, that other Christ.