January 16, 2020
by Luis Rodriguez, S.J.
Creighton University's Jesuit Community
click here for photo and information about the writer

Thursday of the First Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 308

1 Samuel 4:1-11
Psalms 44:10-11, 14-15, 24-25
Mark 1:40-45
Praying Ordinary Time

In the religious/cultural milieu of Jesus’ time the fact that the encounter itself took place is already remarkable. Now, there is no archeological evidence of true leprosy (Hansen’s disease) in Israel at that time. Any skin blemish (e.g. acne, psoriasis) would be considered leprosy, just as any ugly growth in a building (mold) would be considered leprosy of the house. Those considered “lepers” were required to stay away from people, lest they rendered them unclean, since sin was seen as the cause of the illness. So, did the leper come running and shouting: Unclean!? No. Instead, Jesus went as far as touching the leper and he did not come thereby unclean. Instead, the leper became clean.

On approaching Jesus, the leper said: If you wish, which may sound like a matter of correct social protocol, but it is a key statement that presupposes faith in Jesus’ power to heal him. Without that power, wishing to heal would take them nowhere. That clause could also be interpreted by some as questioning Jesus’ compassion: do you care to heal me? But Jesus’ encouraging response recommends rather a positive interpretation of respect for Jesus’ mission: if it fits in your mission, if this is your will.

The leper’s question also opens the door to a possible counter-question by Jesus. Not that Jesus asks any such question, but in Jn. 5 he does ask the paralytic by the pool: do you want to be healed? It may sound like a dumb question, since Jesus knew that the paralytic had lain there for 38 years, yet it is not an idle question at all. Being made whole means that we have no excuse to expect others to meet our needs. Hence the importance of Jesus’ question to the paralytic: are you willing to stand on your own two feet, both physically and socially? We need to question and also to allow God to question our desire for wholeness. Do I really want to be healed? The leper did.

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