First Reading: Lv 13:1-2. 44-46; Psalm: 32. R. v. 7; Second Reading: 1 Cor 10:31-11:1; Gospel: Mk 1:40-45
“IF YOU WILL, YOU CAN MAKE ME CLEAN.”
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
When the outbreak of the novel virus Covid-19 was first discovered in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019; it caused no global concern until the 30th of January 2020 when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the virus a global health emergency. The news became scarier when by March 2020 the virus was declared a global pandemic. But with the swift action of health professionals, the world was able to contain and fight the virus by the use of nose mask, social distancing, quarantine, and vaccination. Thanks to modern facilities that aided research and the discovery of the vaccine.
The outbreak of leprosy in the ancient Jewish society was very scary. The exact cause of the disease was unknown. Although it was not a respiratory disease like Covid-19, but it was feared by families and communities because of the disfiguring effect. Generally, illnesses were believed by the people to be spiritually inflicted and not caused by any bacteria or viral infection. But another major challenge was that there were no modern facilities to discover a vaccine or treatment for this virulent disease. The immediate solution therefore to contain the disease of leprosy was by quarantine; since by experience the people discovered that the disease was contagious by nature.
In the first reading of today, the directives concerning how to curb this virulent disease shows that it was a growing epidemic that threatened the health of the society at that time. So, for the health and safety of the society, every leper must be declared unclean and quarantined outside the society. And for any leper to be reintegrated into the society, the leper must go through the lengthy process of purification by the priest until the priest declares him/her clean.
Separating a sufferer of leprosy from his/her family may sound very harsh; but for the greater good, this was the only available solution at that time. Although it is painful to be separated from family and friends, but lepers considered their isolation as a sign of love and concern for their families and society since their separation from them will safeguard their health and wellbeing. So, we could say that any leper who willingly accepts isolation without resistance was a very considerate and kind-hearted person. The leper in the gospel of today could be one.
When this leper approached Jesus, it was not with the intention to infect Jesus. This leper recognised that Jesus had the divine power not only to cure him but also to make him kosher (ritually clean). He may have accepted isolation for the safety of his family and society; but he obviously have missed them and wanted to be reintegrated. There was no one who could do this but Jesus. He must have heard about Jesus and believed in him. When he came to Jesus, he knelt before him and begged for healing saying; “If you will, you can make me clean.”
Jesus was not only moved with pity by the condition of this leper, his consideration to accept isolation, and his desire to be reunited with his family; but was also impressed by the faith and confidence of this leper to come close to him without any fear of rejection. But what was even more inspiring which obviously moved Jesus the more, was that this leper was not desperate even when he had the ardent desire to experience again the love of family and friends. He did not say: “Jesus, you know how I have missed my family and social life; please, heal me now.” But he humbly fell at the feet of Jesus and begged saying; “If you will, you can make me clean.” For this leper, it was not about the urgency of his desire but the clemency of God’s will. Finally, the clemency of God prevailed; and Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him saying; “I will; be clean.”
The Fathers of the Church have interpreted the disfigurement and isolation of leprosy as the spiritual implication of sin. Sin damages us and separates us from the family of God, the Church. The mission of Christ on earth was to restore our original identity and reintegrate us into God’s family. In Christ, the Church has received sanctifying grace in the sacraments of Baptism and Confession to release us from the harm of sin and the quarantine of separation. But on our part, we must show humility and come to Jesus in these sacraments to ask for mercy and restoration just like the leper in our gospel reading of today. God never rejects a sinner who comes to him in humility and contrition.
There are also other conditions in life that disfigures us emotionally and psychologically, and alienates us from our usual gregarious life. The suffering of sickness, the deprivation of hardship, and the pain of death takes their toll on us. These experiences can be so damaging that we feel cut off from our usual social life. Now, this is where the problem lies because we will begin to miss the things we are so accustomed to doing. There are places we would love to go and things we would love to eat but cannot due to ill health. There are celebrations we would wish to have, and necessary things we need to provide for ourselves and family but cannot due to lack of resources. There are lovely people we wished we could visit or hang out with, but then we discover that death has snatched them away from us.
The urgency to remedy these challenges could suddenly become a hunger; and we wish things could just change straight away. The desperation of urgent needs can make us undisciplined that we want things to change by any means possible. This is where the leper in our gospel of today becomes an example for us. We must learn from this leper that we do not deserve anything. All that we have couldn’t have been possible but for the grace of God. So as much as God does not delight in our suffering, we should not feel entitled to whatever we want or desire. We should not think we can force things out of the hands of God. The consciousness of this is the key to a humble prayer. The kind of prayer that appeals to God – “If you will, you can make me clean.”
God understands our predicaments better than we do. And it is the wish of God to make us clean; to restore us once again. But we must learn humility when we pray; and not ask as though God is beholden to us for whatever services we think we might have done for him. “For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Lk 18:14). A humble prayer is exalted to the far heavens; it moves the heart of God. So when next we kneel to pray, we should learn to begin and end our supplication with: ‘Lord, If you will, you can make me clean.’
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, help us to see that you love us irrespective of our challenges in life; and to learn humility when we come to you in prayer trusting in the clemency of your will. Amen.