Moved with anger. Feeling sorry for him. His heart melted with compassion — these are some of the various Scripture translations describing Jesus’s response of being “moved with pity” when encountering the leper.
Yet the term, splagchinizomai, a Greek word for compassion describing Jesus’ reaction, best translates as having one’s intestines or insides poured out in response. Jesus responded to the leper from deep within himself.
In the time of Jesus, leprosy referred to a variety of skin conditions including scales or distorted skin growth. Considered repulsive, impure and something to be avoided, it was believed that those who developed leprosy were sinners being punished by God. They violated the law which said the body should be whole and holy like God’s. So, as we hear in Leviticus, lepers were ostracized and separated from the community so as not to contaminate others.
No one was allowed to touch a leper for fear that they, too, could become unclean. So that no one would inadvertently do this, lepers were required to alert people of their approach by their appearance and warning cries of “Unclean! unclean!” The Mediterranean culture in which Jesus lived was group-oriented where people were connected to one another and lived communally. Yet, lepers became isolated outcasts, cut off from their physical and spiritual community.
Jesus touches the leper. He does the unthinkable, exposing himself to impurity as defined by his culture. Mark tells us Jesus reacts with compassion from deep within himself. The fear of ritual impurity does not stop him. The barriers and divisions do not hold for Jesus. His touch heals. He touches those who seem beyond hope: outcasts, the sick, women, the poor, sinners. Even though his culture banished or separated people to protect the society, he is not deterred. Throughout Mark’s Gospel, the typical barriers and distinctions the community erected are not hurdles for Jesus; God’s reign is beyond human boundaries.
Jesus restores those he touched to the community, to their rightful place among the people of God. All are gathered and embraced by the power of God’s grace, healing and forgiveness. Jesus brings them home.
Redemptorist Fr. John F. Craghan says, “We are inclined to think that salvation is single file.” We think it is our task to get ourselves to God and into heaven. But, Jesus did not walk single file. He made God’s reign possible and present by gathering those who were banished and alienated, and by touching and healing those whom no one would touch. Jesus taught disciples to walk together side by side toward God’s reign and salvation. As they walk, they gather into the reign of God those who are separated from the community, the ones lost on the path, cut off by fences or borders, those left alone in ditches or on death row. Disciples walk alongside those who are sick and dying from disease, poverty and loneliness. They companion the homeless, orphaned and undocumented while embracing those ostracized because of their religion, skin color, sexual orientation or immigration status.
Mark’s Jesus is a messianic figure on the move. There is an urgency to his proclamation about the reign of God. Jesus went to neighboring towns to preach, wasting no time on theological development or long speeches. Instead, Jesus invited followers to “Come after me” and demonstrated the radical way they were to act. There is work to be done to preach the good news of God’s coming reign. The leper understood; he could not stay quiet. After his healing, he went forth and told others.
There is work to be done, good news to proclaim, people to walk alongside. God’s embrace is wider than we can imagine. Come and see, come follow me
by Dick Folger
In Greek, the word Pentateuch means “five rolls” and describes the first books of the Hebrew Scriptures. Today’s first reading comes from Leviticus. As the third book of the Torah or law, following Genesis and Exodus, Leviticus is like a handbook of rules for the Levite priests and was compiled after the exodus from Egypt.
The detailed instructions about leprosy are part of the Jews’ legal purity code. Cleanliness was an important prerequisite of worship. Entrance into the temple required physical and spiritual cleanliness. This code is reflected today in the Mass when the priest prepares by washing his hands. He whispers the timeless words: “Lord, wash away my iniquity; cleanse me from my sin.”