FIRST READING Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “If someone has on his skin a scab or pustule or blotch which appears to be the sore of leprosy, he shall be brought to Aaron, the priest, or to one of the priests among his descendants. If the man is leprous and unclean, the priest shall declare him unclean by reason of the sore on his head. “The one who bears the sore of leprosy shall keep his garments rent and his head bare, and shall muffle his beard; he shall cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean!’ As long as the sore is on him he shall declare himself unclean, since he is in fact unclean. He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.”
SECOND READING 1 Corinthians 10:31—11:1
Brothers and sisters, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. Avoid giving offense, whether to the Jews or Greeks or the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in every way, not seeking my own benefit but that of the many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
GOSPEL Mark 1:40-45
A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, “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.” The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. 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.” 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.
My Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Leprosy! Even today the very word “leprosy” has a harsh and intimidating sound to it. Today we have a treatment for leprosy but nevertheless there are about 200,000 new cases a year—although that number is slowly declining. But in the time of Leviticus and in the time of Jesus Christ, there was no known treatment. Because the causes of the disease were not know, the person was exiled from “healthy” human society. No one would want to be a leper, cut off from one’s own family and friends and spurned by everyone because of fear of contagion.
In the Scriptures, leprosy becomes a symbol of sin. We can even speak of the “leprosy of sin.” We can understand this also because sin is seen but why people sin is not so clear. There is something broken in our human nature and, as Saint Paul says, we sin even when we try not to sin.
The first reading today is from the Book of Leviticus, which is one of the early books of Hebrew Scripture, one of the early books of our Christian Bible. Chapters 12 to 15 deal with various illnesses and why some illnesses require the person to live apart, primarily in order not to infect others. We can well imagine, however, that if a person were able to hid some kind of infection, they would do so in order to avoid expulsion from the community.
The second reading is from the First Letter to the Corinthians. The strong teaching in this small except is that we should try to avoid giving offense to others and should try to please everyone. That is a tall order but we can understand that Christians are called to love everyone and to serve everyone and to put one’s own needs behind the needs of others. This could sound like a commandment just to be nice. Instead Saint Paul thinks of it as a way to bring salvation to others. We are all missionaries and must think about how we can draw others to Christ Jesus.
The Gospel from Mark today brings us back to leprosy. The leper in today’s Gospel wants to be cured. His faith that Jesus can cure him is so strong that Jesus tells him: “Be made clean.” And the leprosy leaves him. Even though Jesus asks the leper to be silent about this cure, the leper cannot keep his mouth shut. The leper proclaims to everyone that he has been cured by Jesus.
Sin is seen in the early Church as a form of moral leprosy. We are invited by Jesus to become clean in baptism. The early Church had a huge struggle to come to understand how anyone baptized could return to sin. But sin is like leprosy and returns over and over until there is a completely cure. The cure for spiritual leprosy is faith in Jesus Christ.
Today on this Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time, we can ask ourselves: Do I really want to be free of sin? Am I willing to call out to the Lord and ask the Lord to heal me? Am I willing to proclaim the glory of God?
Your brother in the Lord,