A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Mark:
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.
A leper broke the rules.
If you recall from last week, Jesus was in the synagogues and the towns, preaching and driving out demons. People were bringing Him the sick and possessed, and when He tried to have a little quiet time outside town they wouldn’t hear of it. So He went to them in their towns and their places of worship. Now, along comes a leper.
Lepers were not allowed in town. They certainly weren’t allowed in the synagogue. Lepers weren’t allowed anywhere crowded. They had to go and social distance outside the city in a desert place. This was the rule, and the rule existed for a reason. Leprosy was a hideous disease. Your skin could start coming off as if you were already dead.
This leper broke the rule. When Jesus came to town, this leper snuck in in all the excitement. Somehow he got to the synagogue or the house where Jesus was staying, and he pushed his way right into the crowd. He knelt at Jesus’s feet. “If you wish, you can make me clean.”
And Jesus doesn’t scold him.
Lord knows what the others in the crowd are thinking, when they realize they’ve come that close to a man with leprosy. There must have been a stampede to get out the door. But Jesus stays right where He is, and helps.
Jesus stretches out His hand, and touches him.
He doesn’t have to do that. He drove out demons with a word, after all. He could cure leprosy just by speaking. But He does for the leper what He did for Simon’s mother-in-law: He heals with a touch.
That’s against the rules. You’re not supposed to touch lepers. But Jesus doesn’t care about that; Jesus sees a person who hasn’t been touched by another human being in years. Jesus knows that loving touch is something humans need, as much as they need to not have an infectious disease. He knows that feeling accepted, having someone who isn’t repulsed by you, is something without which you can’t be well. And He loves this man, and He wants Him to be well. So He touches him. “I do will it. Be made clean.”
He warns the former leper not to tell anybody else what just happened, what rules were broken, how exactly the leper stopped being a leper. He sends the leper to the priest to be officially cleansed. Let the priest declare him clean. Pretend the disease went away on its own. Jesus doesn’t want to take the credit. Jesus just wanted to help.
The former leper, of course, goes and blabs to everyone about the miracle.
Now Jesus can’t get into a town. Who would want a man who touches lepers in their town? Never mind that He was touching them to heal them. Jesus broke a rule. He’s dirty now. We can’t have that.
Jesus stays outside the towns, in the desert places, where crowds of unclean people come to Him from everywhere.
Someday He’ll be dragged outside the Holy City with His skin torn off, as ugly and unclean as any leper. The crowds will nail Him to a tree so He can’t come back, and leave Him there.
If you want to find Jesus, you will not usually find Him in hospitable places where everyone follows the rules. He gets kicked out of there pretty quickly.
If you want to find Jesus, you have to go out to the desert place where the unclean people are punished for being unclean. Look for the people who broke the rules for compassionate reasons. Look for the people with skin falling off, nailed to trees. That’s where Jesus tends to end up. Go to Him and become unclean yourself.
You will find it worth it in the end.
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.