Today’s readings continue from last week’s theme that Jesus heals.
In the first reading from Leviticus, we are told the procedure of how to deal with those with leprosy. These people were visibly ill and contagious. Like with any serious and infectious disease, quarantine is necessary as we see today with Ebola. The people with leprosy in the Bible were considered “unclean” which made them pariahs in the Hebrew liturgy and society. This disease was a visible sign of punishment after the bearer of it disobeyed the commands of God (Numbers 12:12-15; 2 Kings 5:27). They had to identify themselves via rent garments, covered beard, shaven head as well as shouting “unclean unclean” which were signs of mourning, death and penance (Ezekiel 24:17). The leprosy was a visible sign of sin. Mortal sin and Venial sin hurt us spiritually and physically. The life of grace dies in us every time we sin. We become distant to God. Since God is our life and the body cannot sustain itself without life, then sin eats away at the body just like at death when there is no life and the body cannot regenerate from decaying cells by replacing them. Mortal sin bars us from receiving the Sacraments (except Reconciliation), especially the Holy Eucharist.
The responsorial Psalm responds to the first reading with “I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation.” This Psalm reminds us that we must seek God and ask for mercy and forgiveness. We must acknowledge our sin before God and confess our faults to Him. It is in repentance that we find salvation (Isaiah 30:15). We will see how this ties in with today’s Gospel.
In the second reading from Corinthians, Paul reminds us that everything we do must be for the glory of God. The Jesuits have a great motto, “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam” which means “To the greater glory of God.” This is pretty much what Paul is saying. When we eat, drink, work, study or play; we must do it for the glory of God. It is God who allows us to exist and sustains us so that we can live life (Psalm 66:9). Paul also reminds us that we cannot offend others and must do things that will please instead. Today we live in a world that celebrates offending others. Free speech is not considered free unless you offend others is the mantra of today. This is unfortunate and goes against the second greatest commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:29). By loving our neighbors as ourselves, we open the opportunity for them to be saved; not because of us, but because we imitate Christ. Pope Francis has been showing us how with the way he has been delivering the Petrine ministry to the world with charity and compassion. This is where today’s Gospel comes in.
In the Gospel, we read of the leper who came to Jesus and kneeled before Him begging Him to have mercy and asking to be healed if it was Christ’s will. The next thing that happens is amazing. We read that Christ is moved with pity. Jesus immediately succumbed to this beggar’s plea and said, “I do will it, Be made clean.” Immediately, the man’s leprosy left him and he was cleaned. Christ then warns the man to not tell anyone but instead go to the priest and follow the rituals which Moses prescribed. This would be proof that the man was cleansed. We see here how Christ respects the old rites and did not come to dismiss them, but to make them into a tangible reality (Matthew 5:17). Why did the priest need proof? Well, news of Jesus traveled quickly and the priests of the time were suspect of Him. In the Old Testament, only God healed those with leprosy (2 Kings 5:7). Elisha healed a leper only by calling on God in order to prove that Israel had a prophet (2 Kings 5:8). He could not do it on his own will because he was a mere man. In the Gospel, we read how Christ does it Himself. This is because He is God. God made flesh living among His people (Luke 7:16).
This Gospel not only shows us the power of Christ and the fact that He is God, but it also shows us the power of repentance and prayer. The leper knelt before Jesus. This is not easy for a grown man to do. What grown man kneels before another man? This would be a humiliating act in most cultures. The leper begs Jesus and Jesus is moved to act. God waits for us to repent and ask for mercy. He waits for the sheep to return (Matthew 18:12-13). Once we return after we repent, He will heal us from the damage done by sin which is the soul’s leprosy.