The cleansing of a leper

If you will do so, you can cure me

  • The Gospel story shows that Jesus not only has the power to cure disease, he also has the power to heal the separation from the community and the separation from God, which leprosy signified.
  • Jesus’ approach to the leper would have scandalized the people of his time.
  • By touching the leper, Jesus demonstrated the arrival of the kingdom of God.
SOURCE: Our Sunday Visitor
Fr. Clement Thibodeau

GOSPEL —The Evangelist, Mark, introduces us to the very heart of the Gospel message: Jesus Christ has come to break through the power of sin and evil and to usher in healing and salvation. All barriers, even the most sacred, must be broken down. Confronting evil in its very face -naming a sin, touching a leper -becomes the first act of divine power leading to healing and wholeness. Ultimately, Jesus will stand up even to death itself on the cross and break through to life on the other side of death.

Jesus knows very well that he will incur legal defilement if he touches the leper. He will be considered “unclean,” excluded from the fellowship of the community just like the leper. Jesus does not hesitate to identify with the outcast. He reaches out to this person in his isolation and exclusion. By reaching out, Jesus bridges the chasm of loneliness, fear, despair and rage into which the leper has been cast.

Jesus even dares to confront the sacred Law of Moses in order to reach out and touch the man with leprosy. Even the most sacred must give way to the power of the Son of God.

However, Jesus proves that he has no scorn for the Law of Moses: he sends the man to the priest for verification of the healing. In addition, he is unwilling to accept false glory that might come from his miracles; he reserves that for the time of authentic glory that will come after his Passion and death.

The most remarkable and extraordinary feature of the life and teaching of Jesus Christ consists in the fact that he invites us to become his disciples, to become like him, to reproduce his values in our lives, to do his works, to become “other Christs”to one another and to the whole world. Discipleship is our first callingor primary destiny. We sit at the feet of the Divine Master; it is our privilege to internalize the values and standards of his life.

SOURCE: © 2017 Portland Diocese / Father Clement D. Thibodeau. Used with permission.
Fr. Eamon Tobin

GOSPEL — Although excluded from the community, lepers are allowed to attend synagogue, but they sit behind a protected screen, never daring to come into the main part of the synagogue. While we do not know the exact location of today’s event, perhaps it occurs during a synagogue service. Recognizing Jesus to be a holy man, the leper may have done the unthinkable: he rushes from behind the screen and approaches Jesus. He believes Jesus can heal him, but he was not sure if Jesus will want to heal him. “If you wish, make me clean.” Then Jesus does the unthinkable, he stretches out his hand and touches the untouchable, thereby incurring ritual uncleanness. Jesus tells the rejected man: “Of course I want to heal you. Be made clean.”Jesus’ touch heals the man not only on a physical level but also on a social and spiritual level. He no longer feels rejected by the community or by God.

We notice again a reference to the messianic secret (explained in last week’s commentary). The leper is told not to tell anyone about his healing – but how does one contain wonderful good news? So he runs off and tells everyone. The man is told to go to the priest so he can get a certificate declaring himself clean, enabling him to once again mix with the community and worship with them.

SOURCE: ©2020 Fr. Eamon Tobin. Used with permission.
Sr. Mary McGlone

GOSPEL — We might do well to listen to today’s Gospel, and even everything that follows, as filling out Jesus’ statement “For that I have come” (1:38). Jesus’ fame had spread and he was making his way through the villages of Galilee. Then Mark tells us that a leper came out to Jesus.

Mark does nothing to identify this person. He mentions no name, he doesn’t tell us when this happened or where. It’s as if this afflicted man appears on the scene to represent everyone who needs what Jesus has come to offer. The man tells Jesus,“If you wish, you can make me clean.” It is almost as if he were looking for confirmation of the reason for which Jesus came, asking, “Is this it?” The man clearly believes that Jesus has the power to heal him, but the leper wants to know if that is also Jesus’ desire.

Mark describes Jesus’ response in highly emotional terms. First, he is moved with pity. The term pity does not imply that Jesus felt sorry for him, but rather that he had compassion, that Jesus felt with him. This compassion is a feeling of solidarity referring to how a mother feels for the child of her womb. It is a feeling that is so affective that it has physical repercussions. Just as he had done with Peter’s mother-in-law, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched the man. As if confirming that the man had correctly assessed his mission, Jesus said, “I do will it.” Then, like God the Creator, Jesus spoke a word and what he said came about. He said, “Be made clean,” and the leprosy left the man.

In the next movement of the story, Jesus makes the formidable demand that the man tell no one anything. Instead of spreading the story, he is supposed to present his situation to the priest and to make the prescribed offering as a testimony that he had been healed. The fact that Jesus sent the man to the priest suggests that that the former leper became the first apostle, the first person Jesus sent out to give testimony to him. And the first testimony Jesus ordered was directed to the religious leaders of his day. Mark never tells whether or not he spoke to the priest, but he did spread the word about Jesus and his power.

SOURCE: ©2018 National Catholic Reporter. All Rights Reserved. Sr. Mary McGlone is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Her 2020 Reflections and 2018 archive can be read at National Catholic Reporter website.
Fr. George Smiga

Touching the leper

GOSPEL — There are no zombies in the bible. But lepers would come rather close to creating the fear that we associate with the walking dead. Leprosy was a terrible disease that gradually ate away at the body. The people of Jesus’ time did not understand the disease, but they knew it could spread. So they quarantined lepers. (All you have to do is think of the recent events regarding the Ebola crisis to gain some sense of the concern and panic that leprosy caused in the ancient world.) So, if somebody with a dreaded and contagious skin disease would come up to you and want to shake your hand, what would you do? All of us would pull back and say, “No, stay away. There’s no sense that both of us become infected.” We would keep the leper away. Jesus does not. In today‘s gospel when he sees the leper he is moved to compassion. He stretches out his hand and touches him. Why would Jesus do this? He is not inviting us to set aside medical hygiene and go around touching infected people. Jesus touches the leper to show us what God does. Jesus reveals in this action that our God is willing to push past any barrier to touch and to save the infected, the ostracized, and the doomed.

Now this is good news for us because we are the leper. “Now wait a minute,” you say, “I’m not a leper. I’m healthy. I have family and friends around me. My life is good and successful.” And, if that’s the case, then this gospel is not your gospel—or this gospel is not your gospel today. But this is the gospel to remember if your life takes a downward turn. If your health fails, and you have to deal with sickness that limits your mobility or threatens your survival, this gospel tells you that God will not forget you and that even in your sickness God desires to touch you. When your relationships fall apart, when your marriage fails, your family splits, or people you trust turn away, this gospel tells you that God is still in your corner and that God still desires to save you. When we mess things up because of greed or selfishness or pride or weakness, it is easy for us to feel that we no longer have value. We fell that we are unclean, that we no longer deserve to be loved. This gospel tells us that our sins and our failures are no barriers to God. We are not contagious to Jesus. He still has the power to make us whole.

So, on days that we are healthy and happy, we should give thanks and praise God. But on the days when we are the leper, this gospel is our hope. Although we may see ourselves as the walking dead, God still sees us as beloved daughters and sons. And, if we call out, we will feel God’s touch and hear, “I do will it. Be made clean.”

SOURCE: ©2021 Building on the Word.org. All Rights Reserved. More homilies can be read at Building on the Word website.

Commentary Excerpts

Theology of Work Commentary


GOSPEL— No commentary for this reading.

SOURCE: © 2014 Theology of Work Project, Inc.; Used with permission. (Licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.)
Life Recovery Bible


GOSPEL— No commentary for this reading.

SOURCE: Content taken from The Life Recovery Bible notes by Stephen Arterburn & David Stoop. Copyright © 1998, 2017. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.

Bible Study

Exegesis Outline

Sunday’s Gospel

SOURCE: Richard Niell Donavan, a Disciples of Christ clergyman, published SermonWriter from 1997 until his death in 2020. His wife Dale has graciously kept his website online. A subscription is no longer required.

Jesus Heals and Cleanses a Leper

by Michal Hunt (Agape Bible Study)

In the Gospel Reading, Jesus stretches out His hand, pronounces His divine word, and cleanses a leper, restoring him to his community and making him fit to offer God worship in the Temple. The same miracle happens in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Penance). We confess our sins to the Lord, and through the outstretched hand and divine word spoken by the priest in Jesus’ name, the Lord God takes away the “uncleanness” of our sins and restores us to fellowship with Him and the covenant community.

Treatment of lepers

We read about the Law concerning a person diagnosed with leprosy in the First Reading. Under Mosaic Law, those persons were virtually excommunicated from the community and doomed to live in poverty and isolation. Lepers had to wear torn garments with an uncovered head. They had to cry out “unclean” wherever they went, and they had to remain outside the community in deserted places. The life of a leper was like a living death. Not only was a leper ritually unclean, but anyone who came in contact with a leper could also become unclean. A leper could not worship in the Temple until a priest pronounced the person healed and eligible for ritual purification. Anyone in contact with a leper could not worship in the Temple until they had also undergone ritual purification (Lev 13-14).

Cases of leprosy in scripture

The Old Testament mentions several cases of leprosy: for example, Miriam (Num 12:10), Naaman (2 Kng 5:10), Gehazi (2 Kng 5:25), King Uzziah (2 Kng 15:5), and four lepers at the siege of Samaria (2 Kng 7:3).

In the New Testament, Jesus healed lepers (Mt 8:1-4; Mk 1:40-42; Lk 5:12-16; 7:22; 17:11-19) and gave the same healing power to His disciples (Mt 10:8). On Jesus’ last teaching day in Jerusalem, Simon the (former) Leper, who lived in Bethany, welcomed Jesus and His disciples to dinner in His honor on the Wednesday before His crucifixion (Mt 26:6; Mk 14:3).

Intro to the leper in today’s Gospel

The leper in our Gospel story makes a bold move in coming to Jesus. He takes the risk because he has confidence that Jesus can heal him (Mk 1:40). Jesus feels compassion for the man, and He is not made “unclean” by coming into contact with the leper. Instead, the leper was “made clean” by contact with Jesus just as we are “cleansed” by contact with Jesus in the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Sacramental quality to Jesus’ healing

Notice that there is a sacramental quality to Jesus healing the man. Jesus stretches out His hand (verse 41), just as God, by His “outstretched hand,” performed mighty acts to save the Israelites in the Exodus experience and in other glorious deeds in the history of the covenant people (Ex 13:9; 14, 16; 15:6; etc., and as Jesus’ disciples prayed in Acts 4:30). His divine word accompanies this ritual sign as Jesus says, “I will do it. Be made clean.” And like God’s divine words that brought about the Creation event (Gen 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26, 28, 29; Ps 33:9; Is 48:13), Jesus’ words brought about what He commanded (Jn 1:1-5), whether in healing a leper, raising the dead (Mt 9:24-26/Mk 5:41-42; Lk 7:14-15; Jn 11:43-44), or changing bread and wine into His Body and Blood (Mt 26:26-28; Mk 14:22-25; Lk 22:19-20).

Messianic secret

Jesus asks the man to keep secret the source of his healing. This event is the first instance of what Biblical scholars call the “messianic secret” in Mark’s Gospel, where Jesus insists on concealing His true identity until the time He chooses to make the revelation.

The leper is to show himself to a priest

44 Then he said to him, “See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.”

Notice that Jesus tells the man to show himself to a priest (according to the Law in Lev 14:1-20). The old Sinai Covenant and its laws are still in place and will remain until Jesus fulfills the old and replaces it with the New Covenant (Lk 22:20; Heb 8:7, 13). In the meantime, Jesus is obedient to the old covenant Law (Mt 5:17-20). Jesus told the man to show himself to a priest because he has the power under the Law to confirm the man’s healing. Then, under the priest’s direction, on the eighth day after his examination, the man could return to the Temple to perform the ritual of purification, offer the necessary sacrifices, be restored to the community, and returned to fellowship with God (Lev 14:10).

Jesus cautioned the healed man not to reveal the miracle (verse 44). The revelation of Jesus’ true identity must not come too soon. He must fulfill the words of the prophets before the opposition to His ministry climaxes in His Passion.

The eighth day

Significantly, the ritual of purification for a leper is on the “eighth day” when the man can be restored to the community and fellowship with God in Temple worship. The eighth day is symbolically the day of the healed person’s “resurrection” to a new life. The number eight in the significance of numbers in Scripture represents salvation, regeneration, and new life. The eighth day will be when Jesus Christ is resurrection from the dead, on the day after the seventh day Jewish Sabbath (see CCC 349). See the document “The Significance of Numbers in Scripture”

The man publicizes that he has been healed

45 The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere.

However, the healed leper cannot keep quiet in his joy over his healing and restoration to his family and community (verse 45a). The former leper experiences restoration to the community, but as for Jesus, it becomes impossible for Him to enter the town because of the large number of people who wanted to see Him (verse 45b). Ironically, Jesus and the man have traded places. Jesus has healed the man at a personal cost and has taken on the leper’s previous position outside the towns. However, Jesus was not isolated because the people came to Him as news continued to spread about His miraculous healings and His authoritative teachings.

SOURCE: Michal E. Hunt at Agape Bible Study; used with permission.


The cleansing of a leper

Paul J. Schlachter

Points to consider

  • I have just finished studying the lesson in Leviticus about the ritual impurity of the lepers in Israel and the apartheid to which they must resign themselves. The leper colony in Ben Hur might be an authentic portrayal of that definitive lifetime separation. As I read the Gospel passage, I notice that every detail stands out in sharp contrast to the concern of the Law over uncleanness.
  • A leper came to Jesus. For shame! He broke the barrier between the clean and unclean, and is in further violation of the Law. Perhaps – No! probably! – Jesus walked up close to a colony, so that the inhabitants would be expected to shake their bells and warn him away. I wouldn’t put it beyond him. So the lepers had heard of him, too.
  • The leper, kneeling down begged him: If you wish you can make me clean. Kneeling down has to do with the divine Jesus. And so does ritual cleansing. If God declares things unclean, God can declare things and people clean.
  • The priests had their careful examination of the skin. And Jesus? Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him. What counts is the humanity of the leper.
  • I do will it. Be made clean. Jesus did not confirm the broken skin and bones he saw on the surface. He created a new man. Where there was a warning of impending evil and judgment, he erected the open-ended promise of life. God wills that all be made clean. That is why Jesus presents to us in his life and mission the fullness of God. No wonder he was made clean.
  • He said to him, See that you tell no one anything. And so begins the Messianic secret in Mark, a convenient way to keep people from misconstruing the man and his mission. As for the former leper, he went away and began to publicize the whole matter. Today we have our talk shows and our blogs, so we know how even two hundred million people can hear a story in a day and blow it out of proportion. But still I wonder: Could I be true to Christ if I kept such wonderful things to myself?

Key elements

  • Climax: The new pronouncement of the Lord. I want it! Be clean!
  • Message for our assembly: Jesus broke down barriers between people, and we are called to stand especially alongside the afflicted of the world. Now is not the time to keep the Messianic secret to ourselves!
  • I will challenge myself: To echo in my voice the authoritative voice of the Master.

Word to Eucharist

Who in this procession – in my estimation – does not belong here? But how do I know this? And would Jesus reject them, too?

SOURCE: Paul J. Schlachter at LectorWorks.org


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Dr. Brant Pitre

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St. Timothy Catholic Church

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