“‘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.’" Mark 1:41
Cultures often show themselves to value cleanliness in one form or another. For the ancient Jews, ritual cleanliness before God was considered especially important, as only this enabled people to be presentable to Him. As can be seen from today’s First Reading, the Mosaic Law was strict in its application of cleanliness and its pertinence to the community: in this instance, the illness of lepers, the outcasts of ancient societies, who would have endured existence at the margins for all of their lives, cut off from the synagogues and the Temple.
Perhaps it is because of this existential anguish that the leper in the Gospel presents himself to Our Lord. Jesus, knowing the pain of this man, grants his request. As God, Jesus wanted all to be able to participate in Israel’s relationship with Him, and it was only through cleansing that this man could rejoin the nation and rebuild his life.
I’d like to imagine that in addition to healing the man’s physical (and, consequently, existential) illness, Jesus healed the most important of any of the leper’s illnesses: his spiritual sickness and sin. Christ is not opposed to healing all components of the person (Mark 2:1-12), and it seems that this would be no different. Jesus evens commands the man to follow the Law and become clean before the priest, who would pronounce that indeed the man was now sinless (because his physical illness was eradicated, as the Jews understood suffering and sin).
We ourselves often are afflicted with a leprosy far more deadly and alienating than the one of the man in the Gospel: sin. Similar to leprosy, sin infects our beings and radically alters our lives into an anguished isolation, cut off from God and the community, the Church. Unlike physical leprosy, sin is intentional chosen and is therefore all the more pitiable.
Yet, when we find that we have failed before God, all that we must do is turn with confidence to His Mercy, which is for all and knows no limit. Unlike the lepers of ancient times, who seldom, if ever, received the chance to be free of their ailment, we always have the opportunity to approach Our Lord and cry with confidence to Him, “If you wish, you can make me clean.”
As Lent begins in only 10 days, let us remind ourselves to imitate the words of today’s Psalm and to seek from the Lord the grace and cleanliness of heart from sin that we so often lack, so that we, like St. Paul reminds us in today’s Second Reading, may do all for His Glory.