2024 Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time Gospel: Mark 1:40-45
(A great prophet has arisen in our midst, God has visited his people.)
A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. He said to him, “See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.” The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere. -Mk 1:40-45
Too often we become used to the gospel scenes. We have heard them for years, read them, seen them depicted in movies and sacred art. The danger is to see it as ordinary, to lose the shock and awe that the historical event should solicit from us. There are dozens of accounts of Jesus healing people. While we now possess a cure for leprosy, such a cure was not available in the ancient world. To have leprosy was no small matter.
Leprosy was a disease that prevented one from living in community. Lepers were ritually unclean. Living outside human community was to live apart from the Temple, the local synagogue and religious festivities, family, friends, and work. In a sense, leprosy robbed a person not only of community but also human connection. This included human touch. Imagine being sick and not able to benefit from the support of others around you during your suffering. The mere sight of you would cause a communal panic since interaction with you would result in them being quarantined. While the covid-19 experience of 2020 had similarities, a leper suffered even more from isolation in the ancient world.
Not only does Jesus heal the man, but he also does something that the average person would have been scandalized by. Jesus first “touched him.” Jesus is not contaminated by this touch as they believed but rather Jesus contaminates the leper. It is a reverse contamination. Contact with Jesus is to encounter the goodness of the Holy One who loves. Jesus’ touch is an act of love that frees the man from the isolation. Yes, he is freed from isolation by being healed, but he is also freed from isolation by human contact. The touch of Jesus gets at the very heart of what the man longed for and what he, and us, are made for: love.
How does the man respond to this experience? He tells others about it. Despite what our culture would expect of Christians, he does not keep it hidden as part of a private life not meant to be shared at work, or in the market, or when at family events. He has not only received a miracle but also an encounter with the one he longed for. “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you” (St. Augustine, Confessions 1.1). Why would he share such a thing? We share what we experience as a true good. If we are willing to share shopping deals or movie recommendations with others, how much more will one who encounters Jesus share this news?
Interestingly, Jesus says to the man, “tell no one anything.” This request found throughout Mark’s account was likely Jesus’ attempt to minimize his reputation as a miracle worker only or to postpone certain confrontations. In the end, the man cannot help it. It is as if the news burst from within because it cannot be contained. Throughout all four gospels we find this theme of encounter with Christ that results in missionary witness. How will you share the news that God is real, and you found him in prayer and the sacraments? How will you share the news that God is not dead but witnessed to by the Scriptures and the lives of the saints? How will you share the greatest news headline ever imagined?