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
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).
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.