Gospel: Mark 1:40-45
Make Me Whole Again
Have you ever seen a true healing? A true restoration? How did these events affect you?
American media seems to be of two minds with personal shortcomings. One usually papers over moral fault lines. Or, one can wallow in the morass. Political pundits insist perfection precedes leadership. But, talk shows encourage the trash they present. Where is the middle ground? When can people admit their broken nature and reach out for healing? Where can they be restored to their former place?
Of course, people do seek and receive healing. But with every resolution comes change. In the cure of the leper, Mark wrote of change. Change in condition. Change in location. And, change in relationship.
40 A leper approached Jesus, fell to his knees, and pleaded, "Jesus, if you want to, you can make me whole again."
41 Jesus had such deep feelings for the leper, he reached out and touched the man. "I want you to get better. Be whole again." 42 At that moment, the disease left the man. 43-44 Then, Jesus clearly warned the man. "Don't tell anyone about your cure! Go! Show your skin to the priest. Then give to the Temple, just as Moses commanded. That should show them!" After that, Jesus kicked the man out.
45 But, after the man left, he talked about Jesus all the time. Because of his comments, Jesus could not enter any town in the open. Instead, he stayed in places where he could be alone. But people from everywhere kept coming to see him.
In the story of the leper's cure, Mark presented three turns. First, Jesus restored an outcast's health and place in society. Second, Jesus' feelings for the man somehow changed. And, third, as the man freely spread the news of Jesus' power, the Lord's mobility was restricted.
40 A leper came toward HIM, begging HIM, falling to (his) knees, and said to HIM, "If you wish, you have the power to make me clean." 41 Having feelings (for the leper), having stretched out HIS hand, HE touched (him) and said to him, "I wish (it). Be cleansed." 42 Immediately, the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.
1:40 We cannot make the direct connection between the disease the leper had and the disease we call "leprosy." Leprosy in the modern sense (called "Hansen's Disease") is the terminal condition of deterioration. While it is still incurable, Hansen's disease can be arrested because of modern medication. The modern "leper" can live a full life.
The disease the leper had was a serious skin disorder that caused the community to reject him. The exact nature of the disease is unknown (although it could have been Hansen's disease). Since so many scholars disagree what Biblical "leprosy" is, any determination is mere speculation.
"If you wish, you have the power to make me clean." The leper recognized Jesus had the power not only to cure him. In the eyes of the leper, Jesus could make him "kosher," ritually clean. Jesus could restore him to an honorable place in society and in Judaism. Notice the leper believed Jesus had a power greater than that of the Temple priest. On the one hand, the priest could act as an official witness that declared a leper cleansed; his role was passive. Jesus, on the other hand, had an active role as he who cured and restored. Since only God had the power to make someone truly clean, the leper recognized God's power in Jesus.
In the first turn, a "leper" believed Jesus could make him "clean." In order words, Jesus could bring the man back into the community. As the note above stated, the man held Jesus could do only what God could do: make the man "normal" again.
Notice how Jesus cleansed the man: by touching him. To touch the unclean made one unclean. As John J. Pilch noted in his book, The Cultural World of Jesus (pp. 35), ancient Jews concerned themselves with the notion of pollution, not of infection. They made little distinction between a cultural and a natural source of the pollution, as long as they kept the source of the pollution at a distance. In a culture that had a firm mistrust of change, they had an obligation to reject anything that changed what they believed was a God-given lifestyle. When Jesus touched the diseased man, he "took" the disease upon himself. He changed the status of the "unclean" to "clean" and became polluted. He made himself rejected, so the leper could become accepted. And he did it willingly. In this sense, Mark foreshadowed Jesus' ultimate act of accepting pollution from nature and society. He took death upon himself, so all might have eternal life with God.
43 Having clearly warned him, HE immediately he threw him out. 44 HE said to him, "See (that) you do not say anything to anyone. But, go away, show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing that Moses commanded, as a witness to them."
1:43 " . . . as a witness to them." Who are "they?" Scholars are spilt. The offering would be a sign to the priests (i.e., the Sadducees) of Jesus' power. Or, the offering could be a sign of cure to the people with whom the leper lived. (Or, both!) In any case, the offering would be a sign of cure and of power. It would prove God's presence on earth.
Jesus had deep feelings for the man and his condition. Some translate 1:41 as " . . . filled with pity . . . " Some translate the phrase as "filled with anger (against the evil that infected the man)." In either case, the feelings of Jesus worked in the man's favor. Then, in 1:43-44, Jesus seemed to turn against the cured man. Why?
We can speculate between the lines. In the context of the passage, Jesus fulfilled the request of the leper, but the cured man did not return the favor. Or, in a culture that readily showed emotion, Mark simply reported the turn of events. Or, Jesus used anger to motivate the man to action. (Did Mark use the story to urge his audience to evangelize the Jews in his area?) No matter the reason, Jesus' feeling for the man turned against him.
An angry Jesus commanded the cured leper to fulfill the Law. He was to present himself to the priest so he could be declared "clean." In other words, Jesus could cure, but only the priest could declare the man "cleansed" (see Leviticus 14). As the note above stated, the declaration itself would stand as a witness to God's power. Those who opposed Jesus, Sadducee or Pharisee, would have to recognize the effects of the cure. Through the word of Jesus, the unclean was now clean. The cured man, however, did not fulfill Jesus' request. He spread the Good News in other ways.
45 The man, having left, began to proclaim all the time and spread the word (about Jesus), so that it was no longer (possible) for HIM to be able to go openly into a town. But he was outside (the towns) in deserted areas. And they kept coming to him from everywhere.
1:45 " . . . so that it was no longer (possible) for HIM to be able to go openly into a town." This is an awkward clause. Clearly the man's continual testimony in the towns made it impossible for Jesus to preach there without a mob. "...they kept coming to him . . . " is literally "they came to him." Because the verb is indefinite, it indicates an unending procession of people.
The man who Jesus cured and threw out became an evangelist. He "proclaimed and spread the word." In the context of Mark, the cured man brought others to faith. So many, in fact, Jesus could not travel in the open for fear of a mob. Yet, they came to him from every point in Galilee. Jesus continued his ministry despite restrictions placed on him. But he could not visit new territories and preach. Word of his power preceded Jesus and brought the needy to him. His power acted as a magnet.
Catechism Theme: The Anointing of the Sick: Part II (CCC 1506-1513)
"Heal the sick!" (Matthew 10:8) Illness was no longer to be seen as a curse, but as a chance for faith, a time for healing. Jesus brought compassion and service to his ministry among the sick. And, as Jesus did, he instructed his followers to do. Hence, the Church has a duty and a charism to act as an agent of God's healing power. In the name of Jesus, the Church prays for healing among the sick. But, by invoking the name, the Church remembers who really heals and serves: God himself.
From Scripture and Tradition, the Church exercises a ministry to the sick. The Anointing of the Sick sums up the Church's ministry: a sign of the community's care and a prayerful anointing for healing. The sacrament, administered by a bishop or priest, binds the sick to Christ. In this sense, the sacrament forgives sin and "raises up" the sick. No matter whether the result of the anointing is physical or spiritual healing, the sacrament points toward the general resurrection, when all the faithful will be made whole, just as Christ's resurrection restored him.
What hope has God given you in times of illness? How have fellow Christians helped you when you were ill? Did their help or prayers help you through the effects of your illness? How?
Mark wrote of healing, ejection, and evangelization. When we feel Christ's healing touch, we want to stay near, to feel intimate union with the Master. Yet, when he withdraws, do we withdraw? Or do we invite others to the Lord?
God calls us to wholeness. But we cannot stay in the Lord's house forever. We need get back to our daily routines and relationships. It is not a return to the status quo. It is a chance to proclaim and to serve.
How would you like to be made whole? Is it in body, spirit, or relationship? Write down your thoughts and desires for wholeness. Present them to God this week. And pray for the power to trust him with that list.