Thoughts To Live By…

Mk 1:40-45 – Sunday Gospel Reflection

Posted on: February 14, 2009

Mk 1:40-45 – The Cleansing of the Leper
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Leprosy, is a disease caused by the mycobacterium leprae bacteria, this kind of bacterium affects the body’s nervous system, concentrating on the cooler parts of the body. Affected areas are skin, eyes, and muscles in the hands and feet. There are two different initial reactions to the disease: Some people develop clearly defined pale skin patches, indicating the bacterium is isolated in one area. In more extreme cases where the patient has no resistance to the disease, there is very little definition between the patches and healthy skin. With this type of case, it is much more difficult to detect the disease in its very early stages. As the disease progresses, the symptoms only get worse. Numbness in hands and feet make the patient vulnerable to cuts and infections that cannot be felt. Stiffened muscles cause clawed hands. Loss of the blinking reflex leads to total blindness. In some cases amputation of fingers, an arm, or a leg is necessary.

Ever since Biblical times, people have been fearful of leprosy. Most people think of leprosy as an ancient disease. but the harsh reality is that hundreds of thousands of people contract this devastating disease each year and millions more suffer from its terrible consequences. Some statistics presented by the World Health Organization make us reflect: At the beginning of 2005 the declared cases of leprosy in Africa were 47,596, in America 36,877, in Southeast Asia 186,182, in the Eastern Mediterranean 5,398, and in the West Pacific 10,010. Fortunately, according to the WHO, certain statistics exist that refer to a regression of this disease, at least according to the declared data: From 763,262 people suffering from leprosy in 2001 the figure fell to 407,791 in 2004.

It has been said, that every two minutes, someone is told he or she has leprosy. Many think leprosy is a disease of past generations but in many regions, especially in areas of chronic poverty, leprosy continues to attack children, women, and men. People are being shamed, abandoned, rejected, and despised simply because their families and communities do not understand the disease. Many believe leprosy is a curse or punishment from the gods.

It is hard for us today to imagine the awful condition of the leper in New Testament times. He was considered legally dead. But, worse, he was considered morally unclean. Forbidden to enter any walled city-lashed thirty-nine times if he did-he wandered, muffled to the eyes, crying ‘Unclean!’

Under Jewish law, no one could greet him. Under the law, no one could approach within six feet of the leper-one hundred feet if the wind came from his direction. Any building he entered was considered defiled and had to be purified. The common practice was to throw stones at or run and hide from any leper who approached.

Such was the man who came to Jesus. What compassion and greatness he must have sensed in the Master to break the law in this manner. And what was the response? Against all law and tradition, Jesus reached out and touched the leper and by His touch cleansed him of his filthiness. By His touch, to save His brother, Jesus descended lower than any man-exactly as He did, later, to save each of us.

We are that leper, each of us unclean in his own way, inside, many of us feel dirty, ugly, leprous, each of us crying, ‘If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. The Gospel message is clear: Jesus is approachable no matter what our condition. Jesus will never reject us no matter who we are, what we’ve done, or how we look (Jn 6:37). This explains why the leper of today’s Gospel does the opposite of what is expected  by the society and demanded by the law; he approaches Jesus. Jesus also does the unthinkable by stretching out His hand and touching the leper (Mk 1:41) and consequently, healed him.

Never hesitate to approach Jesus, healer of mind, body and soul, in prayer for healing, deliverance, consolation, and perseverance.  Likewise never deprive anyone of God’s loving kindness even those who are considered by law and our society as the untouchable, unlovable, undesirable,  and unbearable.


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