A leper came to Jesus begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.
Today’s Gospel reading can be better understood with some background about leprosy. At the time of Jesus in Palestine, leprosy was a disease covering a variety of skin diseases. In Jewish law any or all of them made the victim unclean and the victims were often banished from society lest they might infect others.
At the time of Jesus, there were probably quite a number of lepers or people suffering from various skin diseases living in isolated communities in Palestine. Therefore, we might not be surprised that there was such an isolated community of lepers somewhere in Capernaum. The news that Jesus had healed many people who were sick and possessed on the first day of his public ministry in Capernaum must spread out quickly in the town and neighbouring areas. The leper in today’s Gospel could be one of them who heard the news and he seized the opportunity to come to Jesus asking for a miracle instead of healing because the Jews of Jesus’ time believed that it was incurable. In other words, the fate of lepers was death. To the Jews, to cure a leper meant to raise the dead.
Of course, we all admire the faith and hope of the leper. However, we often do not see or appreciate the courage of the leper to make the first move to go to Capernaum. He could have been sent back to where he came from on his journey before finding Jesus in Capernaum. Furthermore, he did not know whether he could find Jesus even if he could make the journey to Capernaum. But he had the courage to make the first move to leave the community that he lived with other lepers. Being a Christian, do I have the courage to going to uncharted territories, be it a physical location, or a new relationship?
Note how the leper approached Jesus when he found him. He kneeled before Jesus. It is the most humble posture. He made his request on his knees. How do we make our requests to Jesus? It is not uncommon to see some of us making our requests to Jesus whilst doing something else at the same time. Pay attention to the posture when we pray. If we cannot be humble before Jesus, how can we be humble before other people?
With absolute faith, the leper said, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” The words that he used are in consistence with his humble body posture because he knew perfectly well that Jesus was the one who had the power to heal him from this incurable disease, not his begging.
Moved by this leper’s humility, faith and courage, Jesus replied, “I will” and cleaned him. Jesus’ act of cleansing is the removal of the filth of rotting flesh and skin of the leper and restoring of clean flesh and skin. It symbolizes the cleansing of our body and soul.
Interestingly, Jesus told the cured person not to say how he was cured but go to a priest to get a declaration of clean bill of health. The law of this declaration can be found in Leviticus 14:1-32. Here it also reminds us Jesus once told people, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil (Matthew 5:17).” With this declaration the cured person could now return safely to his original family and community and lead a normal life.
What can we learn from today’s Gospel reading? For me, it is about how we should approach if we have the misfortune to fall into serious sin. We should have the courage to go to Jesus and humbly ask for his cleansing. We should not be afraid to come to Jesus as a sinner because his incarnation, passion and death on the cross proved that he does will and does want our salvation.
Next, he left the power to forgive sins to his Church in another proof of his will and desire to help us. He stated to Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:19).” This power left to the Church is the sacrament of reconciliation where the leprosy of sin can be washed away and the sinner restored to new and perfect spiritual health.
Therefore, it is folly for any Christian to commit sin and isolate himself, like the unclean leper, from God. And the greater folly is to remain in this unclean state when cure for his disease is so readily available to any sincere penitent. Amen.