“If you want to, you can cure me.”
by Fr Pat Egan SDB
St Mark begins his Gospel with the preaching of John the Baptist and Jesus being baptised by him in the river Jordan.
He follows this with Jesus preaching the kingdom of God in Galilee, calling his first four disciples, Simon, Andrew, James and John, and bringing healing:
– to a man who was possessed by an unclean spirit
– to Peter’s mother-in-law whom he frees of a fever
– to many who are suffering from diseases of one kind or another, and casts out many devils
– And in today’s passage to a man whom he cures of his leprosy.
It struck me just how much tranquillity, serenity, joy, good health and well being Jesus brought into the lives of all those people. As they sat down with their families, friends, and neighbours later on, their hearts must have held a warm glow of appreciation and delight at having been made whole by this man who had crossed their path.
The Response to the psalm puts it into words: You are my refuge, O Lord; you fill me with the joy of salvation.
Recently I got a phone call from a friend telling me her husband was in hospital, diagnosed with cancer. It had returned after a number of years. He wasn’t much of a church-goer, and he had accepted his wife’s suggestion that I might call to chat with him.
I didn’t think it was up to me to try to make a church-goer out of him, but rather to be a friendly presence, a listening ear. In fact, when I called to see him, he spoke freely of his life, his family, his achievements and of the questions the approach of death was raising. What could we know about what, if anything, comes after death?
I had brought with me a first class relic of St John Bosco, whose feast we had celebrated on 31 January; and when I mentioned it, my friend’s husband was delighted. John Bosco had meant something to him. He held the relic for a while in his hands and I eventually blessed him with it, and promised I’d call back another day to see him.
In the days that followed, I thought of the Christian view of death. Like the cure of the leprosy, it is rooted in faith, that faith which says to Christ: You are the resurrection and the life. I believe this because you have said it, and your word is true. All the rest is of secondary importance.
I pray that the sick will realise that Christ comes to them, to be with them on their journey, calm their spirit with well being, and fill their heart with the joy of salvation he comes to bring from God our Father.
Scripture readings: Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com
Reflections and Prayers by Fr Jack Finnegan SDB
1st Reading – Leviticus 13:1-2,44-46
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘If a swelling or scab or shiny spot appears on a man’s skin, a case of leprosy of the skin is to be suspected. The man must be taken to Aaron, the priest, or to one of the priests who are his sons.
‘The man is leprous: he is unclean. The priest must declare him unclean; he is suffering from leprosy of the head. A man infected with leprosy must wear his clothing torn and his hair disordered; he must shield his upper lip and cry, “Unclean, unclean.” As long as the disease lasts he must be unclean; and therefore he must live apart: he must live outside the camp.’
Today’s first reading is from a section in Leviticus dealing with infectious skin diseases, some of them of a temporary character. At the time, all of them were all classed as leprosy. In today’s reading we encounter religious law with public health implications. People with such skin diseases were also considered spiritually infected and thus ineligible to participate in public worship. Rules for quarantine were set in place with the priest in the role of public health officer as defined by the Torah. The priest identified the illness and decided the length of quarantine required. Here is why Jesus in the Gospel asks the person he has healed to visit the priest. The period of quarantine can now be brought to an end.
LORD, Adonai, we lift up to you today people who are ill, especially lepers and those suffering from skin cancers, psoriasis and other skin diseases. Let your blessings fall afresh on them. We lift up to you people who have lost spirit because of the health circumstances that impact their lives. Send them help. Let your blessings come upon us all in our hours of need. Amen.
Psalm – Psalm 31(32):1-2,5,11
Psalm 32 is one of the seven Penitential Psalms and is traditionally read in the light of David’s relationship with Bathsheba. Sin as spiritual failure or as transgression or taint or guile or deceit is made clear in the verses chosen today, and repentance is shown to be the healing response. This was St Augustine’s favourite psalm. It reminded him that the beginning of wisdom for a disciple of Jesus is to know oneself as ever in need of divine compassion and mercy. No wonder St Paul saw in it the core of the Good News. Are we ready like David, Paul and Augustine to move from resisting mercy to responding with heartfelt gratitude and life-healing praise?
LORD, Adonai, we turn to you in time of trouble and you fill us with the joy of forgiveness and salvation! How wonderful you are! How endless your mercy and compassion! Free us from guile and every kind of deceit. Give us the courage to walk in your ways all the days of our lives. Make your victory complete in us today. Hear our shouts of gladness and joy! We exult to know you, you who take away our guilt. Amen.
2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1
Whatever you eat, whatever you drink, whatever you do at all, do it for the glory of God. Never do anything offensive to anyone – to Jews or Greeks or to the Church of God; just as I try to be helpful to everyone at all times, not anxious for my own advantage but for the advantage of everybody else, so that they may be saved. Take me for your model, as I take Christ.
The challenge in this short reading is very clear: do everything for the glory of God. In practice, this means developing a nuanced sense of other people’s scruples and difficulties and not offending them by asserting our personal rights and opinions. The background to the reading was common in Paul’s day: food offered to idols. Humility is the Christian way in all such matters. The discernment principle asks: what benefits the weak and gives glory to God? Those who are spiritually strong are challenged to let go of their superior knowledge and spiritual freedom to support those who are weak. It is always easier for a runner to walk than for a crawler to walk! That is why we need to spend quality time with God!
Lord Jesus, may we do everything in your name! May we live every day to the glory of God! May we learn to do what benefits the needy! Help us to be helpful. May we learn the ways of respect and compassion! Teach us how to walk in generosity of spirit and act in ways that benefit many. Amen.
Gospel Reading – Mark 1:40-45
A leper came to Jesus and pleaded on his knees: ‘If you want to’ he said ‘you can cure me.’ Feeling sorry for him, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. ‘Of course I want to!’ he said. ‘Be cured!’ And the leprosy left him at once and he was cured. Jesus immediately sent him away and sternly ordered him, ‘Mind you say nothing to anyone, but go and show yourself to the priest, and make the offering for your healing prescribed by Moses as evidence of your recovery.’ The man went away, but then started talking about it freely and telling the story everywhere, so that Jesus could no longer go openly into any town, but had to stay outside in places where nobody lived. Even so, people from all around would come to him.
Today’s Gospel makes it clear that the mystery of God’s presence at work in Jesus’ words and actions cannot be hidden but must come out. That is why the healed leper speaks out and does not remain silent. Did you notice how Jesus heals by word and touch? Did you notice how Jesus seeks to reinstate the man into the community? Did you notice what happens after Jesus heals the leper and sends him to the priest? Jesus remains outside in deserted places. What is going on here? Does he sense a dispute with the religious leaders coming to the fore? Is he being pushed towards quarantine and marginalisation? Is he saying something about prophetic figures and edge places? The powers that be tend to resist change and the majority of us always seek our comfort zones. Where does that leave the genuine disciple?
Lord Jesus, you healed the leper who came to you in the hour of need. Teach us to care for those who are cut off from families and friends, those who are marginalised by society, the homeless, those burdened by chronic illness, and those who have to seek out deserted places. Help us to recognise when to take prophetic stances for justice and right. Help us to extend love rather than judgment. May we learn to say the right word and do the right thing in your name! Amen.
Word of God and Salesian Life by Fr Juan José Bartolomé SDB
Continuing the account of the first stage of Jesus’ public activity, the gospel relates his meeting with a leper, a sick man who is unnamed. The only thing we know about him is his terrible illness. There are not many accounts in the gospel of lepers being healed. Apart from the parallel account in Mt 8,1-4 and Lk 5,12-16, there is only one other example given by Luke (Lk 17,11-18). Typical of Mark is the final prohibition: the miracle is not to be made public. We should not be concerned that the man who was healed did not obey the order received. Leprosy was a serious skin disease. At that time, leprosy was regarded as the illness closest to death, because of the physical disintegration that characterized it, the contagion that caused it to be feared and the repulsive appearance of the sufferer. Curing a leper was considered the equivalent of raising a dead person (cf Numbers 12, 10-12). At the time of Jesus, the leper was not only suffering from an incurable illness. He was also an outcast from society, forbidden to live among the healthy, even to live with his own family. He had to stay on his own in an isolated place and, since he was considered impure, he could not even go to pray in the temple. Not only did he gradually lose his limbs as a result of the illness, but he was deprived also of the company of his dear ones and the consolation of visiting his God in the temple. The only thing he knew was that he was suffering from a terrible illness and enormous poverty. When he was freed from these, how could he remain silent?
Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
During Jesus’ first journey through Galilee, preaching the gospel and casting our devils, (Mk 1, 39), a leper approached Jesus. His presence was unexpected – a leper was supposed to avoid contact with healthy people. His behaviour was even more unusual – he went on his knees and begged to be healed. The initiative came from the sick man. His request was clear but polite. He acknowledged that Jesus could heal him and accepted that he must want to do so. He knew that Jesus had power to heal him, but he did not know if Jesus wanted to heal him. The sick man put his trust in Jesus. We do not know why, for the gospel does not tell us. His healing depended on the good will of Jesus. In his extreme misery he placed himself in the hands of Jesus.
Before curing him, Jesus felt sorry for him. In a surprising gesture, he touched the sick man. His heart was already touched by the leper’s illness. Now, by touching him with his hand, Jesus put himself at risk of contagion. Before deciding to heal him, Jesus was moved by compassion. And in order to heal him, he broke a social taboo and a legal norm. The miracle was not just the work of a disinterested wonder-worker. Jesus felt personally affected before he made the leper clean, and risked transgressing the law.
Nevertheless, the account does not finish when the miracle is wrought. The silence imposed on the leper forbids him to give any personal testimony, but the command to show himself to the priest is enough to restore him to the life of the society and to conform to the requirements of the law. Jesus’ action is paradoxical. However, once he was healed the leper could not but proclaim his good fortune. Meeting Jesus who cured him made him become a witness to Jesus. His fame as a healer was already established. The account begins by saying that a leper approached him. And it ends by saying that people from all around came to him. He had to heal someone who was excluded from society, before the people went in search of him!
Meditate: apply what the text says to life
The kingdom of God is made manifest in the miracles of Jesus. By emphasizing the sentiments of Jesus, Mark humanizes the miracle. It was Jesus’ pity for the sick man that led him to cure him. His compassion freed the poor man from shame. Jesus restored to the community a man who had been excluded, but he did not want people to know about the miracle. His respect for the law shows clearly the real purpose of the cure: only the priest could confirm what had happened. But anyone who has come to the kingdom, cannot remain silent, and, against the wishes of Jesus, the cured man gave his testimony. Anyone who has not experienced the goodness of Jesus will have nothing good to say about him. It should not matter to us if he finds us ill. If we succeed in getting his attention, we will come away cured, and we will rejoice with him. Whether it seems right or not, and in spite of any admonition of his, we will proclaim to the world the good that he has done to us. If all that is needed to start on this road is to have something wrong with us, either with ourselves or with our world, then what is holding us back from beginning?
The leper in the gospel was in a desperate situation for which there was no remedy, but he was able to take advantage of it to achieve salvation. From the leper’s initiative, and the reaction of Jesus, we can begin to imagine how we might approach Jesus and receive salvation. It is in this sense only that the account we have heard becomes Word of God for us, good news, an invitation to life and a reason for hope.
It may seem logical to us that a sick person will seek someone who can heal him. However, in the case of a leper, it was expressly forbidden by law for him to approach any other person. Lepers were obliged to shout so as to make themselves known, and to avoid all contact with people who passed by. This man did the opposite. He approached Jesus, fell on his knees and begged to be cured. He did not worry about what the law prescribed as long as he could get Jesus to listen to him. He took the initiative and trusted in Jesus who was simply passing by. “If you will, you can make me clean.” The leper submits to the will of Jesus, before revealing his own wish. He accepts the will of Jesus before he knows what Jesus will do. He attaches more importance to what Jesus wants than to what he himself wants. The will of Jesus is more important to him than his own will. Trusting is the best way to ask for something. There is no need to demand.
We have to admire the faith of this sick man. His situation was desperate, without hope. It required great trust in Jesus to accept from the beginning whatever he might decide, without knowing whether or not his prayer would be heard. The leper put all his trust in Jesus, maybe because there was no one else he could trust. It did not matter. He acknowledged his illness and his willingness to accept whatever Jesus might decide. Will we learn one day to pray like this leper? When we come to Jesus, what brings us to him, and how do we present our needs? Trust, the courage to go in search of him despite what others may think or say, and the express acceptance of his will – these are the qualities that will open his heart to us. That is how it was for the leper long ago. And it could happen to us today, any day, if we have faith like that of the leper and if we put our trust in Jesus.
It was his extreme need that gave the leper courage to go in search of Jesus, against all the rules. But it was the kindness of Jesus, and his deep compassion in the face of a terrible illness, that led him to touch the man with a contagious disease, against all common sense and all the laws of the time. Jesus was visibly moved and he drew near and healed him.
Since we do not have the trust the leper had, we do not find Jesus visibly moved in our regard, nor do we find that he takes us by the hand. Those who go to Jesus with their ills, however terrible they may be, and pray to him, with complete trust – “If you will, you can make me clean.” – will hear him say, “I will; be clean.” Why have we not yet felt that hand and the compassion of Jesus? Is it because we have not accepted our illness, and we find no reason to trust in God? What is it that makes us doubt the value of prayer to God and trust in him? We need courage, a lot of courage, to acknowledge our ills and go in search of help. We lose out on God’s help only if we think we are well, or not sick enough to need it.
Jesus not only cures the leper, he restores him to society. He frees the man from his illness and from his solitude. When God heals, he not only cures our inner illness, he also transforms our relationships with others. He heals us completely and sends us to share our life with others. Anyone who has had his health restored must become a brother to others. When Jesus heals someone he sends him among those who think they are healthy. It is his way of healing the world.
Meeting Jesus cannot be an excuse for not going to meet others. We need to be quite clear – our brothers are all those who suffer the same sicknesses that afflict us. Only those who meet Jesus, and go then to meet their brothers, are completely cured. If we live our faith in isolation, indifferent to the ills of others, it is a clear sign that we have not been healed by Jesus. However sick we may be, and however much we pray, if our life of faith does not bring us inner healing and heal our relationships with others, then our meetings with Jesus are of little value.
Anyone who is healed by Jesus will, like the leper, become his witness, even if it is contrary to his command. He cannot remain silent about his cure or about the grace he has received. Gratitude is the work of the heart, and the lips have not got the power to suppress the sentiments of the heart. The former leper became an eloquent prophet. He created around himself a movement of sympathy for Jesus, to the point where it became difficult for Jesus to live his ordinary daily life and to find rest. It cost very little for the sick man, who had previously been excluded from society, to speak freely to everybody about the one who had cured him.
And what about us? If it is true that we are not too enthusiastic about having Jesus around us, in our world or in our family, is it perhaps because we do not yet feel that we have been healed by Jesus? Or maybe he has already done his part, he has taken us many times by the hand, and said to us, “I will; be clean,” but we still do not want to testify with our lives to what God has done for us. If God is the most important thing in our lives, and our greatest treasure, why do we keep quiet about it? Why hide him from others? Could it really be that we are not yet entirely convinced of the goodness of Jesus, of his power and desire to heal us? Are we, the believers of today, lacking what the leper in the gospel had in abundance – trust in the power of Jesus and faith in his good will.