Religion Magazine

“If You Wish, You Can Make Me Clean.”

By Stjohnpa @faith_explorer

A Scriptural Reflection on the Readings for Sunday, February 12, 2012, the Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time by Carl E. Olson

“If you wish, you can make me clean.”
Imagine having an illness so disfiguring, contagious, and deadly that you cannot have any contact with other humans—except for those suffering from the same disease. Cut off from family and friends, shunned by everyone, you must cry out, “Unclean, unclean!” anytime you might be close to someone healthy, warning of your disturbing presence.

It might be difficult to fathom such a stark situation, especially since modern medical treatment provides cures for so many diseases that once ravaged humanity, as well as the means to be close to those who may, in fact, suffer from a contagious illness. Those living in the ancient world, not possessing those options, were often forced to use extreme but necessary measures. Today’s reading from Leviticus 13 is a sober reminder of the anguished separation experienced by those stricken by a variety of skin diseases, often classified under the general name of “leprosy.”

In some cases the unclean person would recover; taken to one of the priests, he would be examined, and, if truly healed, allowed to return to the community. The suffering of those who never recovered was intensified by the loss of familial relations and friendships. In addition, those with leprosy could not partake in the Jewish worship and liturgy. They would have to “dwell apart “ outside the camp, cut off from the social, cultural, and religious life they had once enjoyed. They, in essence, became a sort of walking dead.

These grim facts render the encounter described in today’s Gospel all of the more surprising and poignant. The first surprise is the raw faith of the leper, who did not ask if Jesus was able to heal, but simply declared: “If you wish, you can make me clean.” The second surprise is Jesus’ immediate reaction, which surely shocked those who witnessed it: he touched the leper. Not only was it seemingly irrational, it was a direct violation of the Law, for Jews were to have no contact with anything unclean.

The third surprise is that the unclean man did not infect the clean man; rather, the Lord purifies the leper. Some of the Church fathers connected it to this sentence in Paul’s letter to Titus: “To the clean all things are clean, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is clean; in fact, both their minds and their consciences are tainted” (Tit. 1:15). They recognized that the physical healing imparted by Jesus, while undoubtedly significant, was also meant to signify: it pointed to the spiritual healing offered and communicated by the Savior. (Read the complete reflection here

Readings: Lv 13:1-2, 44-46; Ps 32:1-2, 5, 11; 1 Cor 10:31-11:1; Mk 1:40-45

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the February 15, 2009, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to The Faith Explorer RSS feed!

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog