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In today’s Gospel, we continue to hear Mark report the miraculous healings that Jesus performed in Galilee. The Gospel begins with Jesus healing a man with leprosy. Leprosy is a disfiguring, infectious skin disease that has been surrounded by many social and religious taboos throughout history. Since the 1940s, medical treatments have been available, and the patient no longer needs to be isolated once long-term treatment has begun.

In the Old Testament, leprosy is depicted as punishment for disobedience of God’s commands  Considered “unclean”—unfit to worship or live with the Israelites, lepers are considered the living dead (see Numbers 12:12). Indeed, the requirements imposed on lepers in today’s First Reading—rent garments, shaven head, covered beard—are signs of death, penance, and mourning.

 People with leprosy lived in isolation from the community. They were instructed to rip their clothes and to announce their presence with loud cries when moving in the community. If the sores of leprosy healed, the Law of Moses provided a purification rite that permitted the person to return to the community.

So, there’s more to the story in today’s Gospel than a miraculous healing

In today's Gospel, the man with leprosy took the initiative, approaching Jesus and asking for healing. In doing so, the leper violated the religious customs of the day by approaching a person who was clean. His request to Jesus can be interpreted as a courageous and daring act. The confidence of the leper in Jesus' ability to heal him is evident in the words of his request. But his words can also be read as a challenge to Jesus, asking just how far Jesus was willing to extend himself to heal someone. While healing the man, Jesus touched him, which also violated established social norms. This is an important sign of the depth of Jesus' compassion for the man and an important statement about Jesus' interpretation of the Law of Moses.

Although Jesus touched the leper, he did not break completely with the Law of Moses. He instructed the man not to tell anyone about the cure and told him to present himself to the priests as prescribed by the Law of Moses. The first instruction sounds nearly impossible to honour. Certainly, the man would want to share the good news of his healing, and his quick improvement would require an explanation. The second instruction honours the Law of Moses.

Mark's Gospel tells us that after this healing, it became difficult for Jesus to travel freely. There are several possible explanations for this. There might have been concern about the repercussions of Jesus' breach of social and religious norms. In touching the man with leprosy, Jesus made himself unclean. Mark's narrative, however, leads to the conclusion that Jesus' movement was hampered by his popularity. Despite his instructions, the cured man spread the word about Jesus' healing power.   

 We come to know something about the humanity of Jesus. Jesus acts with a deep feeling of compassion, and he touches a leper, thereby affirming his shared humanity and incurring ritual defilement on himself. When God in Christ Jesus reaches out to heal us, it is neither from a distance nor with a bolt of disembodied power. Instead, the healing of God is a healing, a touch that requires the God of creation to bow low to embrace us in the chosen humility described in the Letter to the Philippians (2:5-11). In this sense, we see on display the full solidarity of the Word-made-flesh--a solidarity that leads Christ Jesus to take upon himself the burdens, wounds, and suffering we experience.
We pause the liturgical season of Ordinary Time this Sunday and we begin Lent, we reflect on whether and how our faith leads us to Christ. Do we have the humility to recognize our need for healing, the confidence to trust in God, and the openness to learn about who we are and who Christ is in the process?


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