My Dear People,
Wednesday this week we begin Lent. I am sure that you are familiar with the regulations during Lent. Briefly: Ash Wednesday and Fridays during Lent are days of abstinence from eating meat. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, adults ages 18 to 59 years are to fast on these days. It is strongly recommended that we do some sort of penance, such as abstain from some foods, or entertainments (you choose one). It is recommended that we go to Confession during Lent (we have a communal penance service on March 10th with several priests assisting) and extended time of Confession on Friday March 26 (4 to 8 PM and on Saturday March 27th (9AM am to noon). Also make more time for prayer and reflection and take opportunities to do acts of charity. Due to COVID-19 the ashes will be distributed by pouring some on the head. (No crosses on the forehead, in order to avoid touching several people).
The Readings of today deal with leprosy. Few afflictions in biblical times were more hideous and terrifying than leprosy. “Leprosy” is related to a variety of severe skin disorders, including actual leprosy, which is a bacterial infection causing the skin to ulcerate, resulting in oozing sores, disfigurement, loss of limbs, and occasionally blindness. In ancient times, leprosy was incurable and its diagnosis virtually a death sentence. Besides the physical ravages, there was the total ostracism from human society imposed by law: “The one who bears the sore of leprosy shall keep his garments rent and his head bare, and shall muffle his beard: he shall cry out, “Unclean, unclean!. . . He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp” (Lev. 13:45-46). Even worse, a leper was ritually unclean and thus barred from entering the temple, God’s holy dwelling place. The law could do nothing to help a leper; it could only protect the community from the spreading of the disease.
By approaching Jesus, the leper makes a bold move. Not only does he violate the structures of the law, but he risks encountering the familiar reaction of horror and revulsion when one encounters a leper. He kneels, a sign of both supplication and reverence. His plea, if you wish, shows his utter confidence in Jesus’ power. Significantly, he does not ask Jesus to heal him but to make him clean. His deepest desire is to be free once again, so as to partake in the worship of God’s people. At the sight of this wretched man, Jesus is moved with pity. As the bystanders look on with astonishment, Jesus stretches out His hand and touches him. But, Jesus is not defiled by the leprosy. Instead, His touch and word instantly makes the man clean. The power of Jesus’ cleanliness—His holiness—is invincible. Because no defilement can contaminate Him, He is able to remove defilement from the faithful who approach Him. Verse 43 could be interpreted to mean that Jesus sternly charged and dismissed not the leper but the demon, (presumably one that caused the leprosy).
Jesus, while traveling around proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, tried not to publicize His healings. Thus, His command: “See that you tell no one anything!” is the first clear instance of what biblical scholars have called the “messianic secret”. Mark writes about Jesus’ insistence on concealing His identity and mighty works during the time of His public ministry.
Jesus tells the cleansed man to show himself to a priest and offer the sacrifice prescribed for cleansing from leprosy (see Lev. 14), acknowledging his respect for the law of Moses. A priest's clean bill of health will allow the man to re-enter society and participate once again in the temple worship. The prescribed rite was to take two clean birds, one to be sacrificed and the other, dipped in the blood of the first, to fly away free (Lev. 14:3-7). If the man complied with Jesus’ word, he might have discovered a symbolic image foreshadowing Jesus’ own sacrifice and helping him understand more deeply what Jesus had done for him. But for the moment, he is unable to contain his delight. Ignoring Jesus’ injunction, he begins to publicize the whole matter and begins spreading the news about the healings. Mark uses Christian terminology, literally: “preach a lot” and “spread the word”, drawing an unmistakable parallel with the joyful evangelistic preaching of Christians who have been cleansed by Christ in baptism.
As a result, it becomes impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. Ironically, Jesus has now taken upon Himself the leper’s previous status, and the healed man is free to return to human society. But, Jesus must remain outside in deserted places to avoid being mobbed by people seeking to benefit from His miraculous powers. He has healed the man with leprosy at a cost to Himself—just as later in the Gospel He will take on Barabbas’s status as a condemned criminal, while Barabbas goes free (15:15).
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Vincent Clemente