Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time
February 11, 2018
First Reading: Leviticus 13: 1-2, 44-46
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 32: 1-2, 5, 11
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 10: 31 – 11:1
Gospel: Mark 1: 40-45
Oftentimes the interpretive focus of today’s Gospel falls to how we are called to recognize the “lepers” of today–those who have been marginalized, cast aside, rejected, or labeled unclean such as we hear about in the first reading from Leviticus. This is not an altogether bad exercise, for all Christians should incorporate into our regular examination of conscience consideration of how we treat those Jesus frequently identifies as the “least among us.” But I wonder if there isn’t also another opportunity for the Spirit to move our hearts and minds through these passages. This is an opportunity to pause and look again at the characters and to place ourselves not in the shoes of Jesus but in the place of the leper.
Like the leper, we come before Christ bearing the wounds accrued in life: the letdowns, the insecurities, the emotional scars, the physical weaknesses and suffering.
Like the leper, we know that the wholemaking necessary for us to return to society, reestablish broken relationships, and love ourselves may only be accomplished by God–for, in the vernacular of twelve-step programs, some things are only accomplished by surrendering to our “higher power.”
Like the leper, we come to learn in this encounter not only something about ourselves, but also something about Christ.
To be able to come before Christ and seek the possibility of divine healing is only made possible when the leper acknowledges his own woundedness. This necessary step is perhaps one of the reasons we’re less inclined to identify with him than we are to put ourselves in Jesus’s place. Many of us are socialized within our respective cultures to never show weakness, never admit failure, and never ask for help. This is all the more true for men, but it is also often the case for women.
Imagining ourselves in the place of the leper, falling to our knees before Christ invites us to embrace the humility necessary to live out our baptismal vocation. This experience sheds light on the truth, too often ignored in modern capitalist societies, that we are interdependent and never isolated monads self-sufficient in all things. Our acknowledgement of our respective woundedness isn’t so much for the sake of God as it is for our own knowledge-the one before whom we kneel already knows how we suffer, but too often pride and fear get in the way of our accepting this for ourselves.
If the first step is acknowledging and owning our need for healing, then what follows is admitting that we cannot solve our own problems or fix our own crises. The leper in today’s Gospel, while admittedly ostracized by discriminatory norms and religious laws, nevertheless realizes that restoration of his place within society is something that only God can accomplish. There are two signs in this pericope that signal the leper’s surrender to God in Christ Jesus: first, he kneels in homage and solicitation and, second, he affirms the divine action in Christ by recognizing that “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Faith in the healing power of God is on full display in the leper’s encounter, but what about our faith?
Finally, it is not simply our true humanity that we come to discover in this encounter, but like the leper in this passage, we come to know something about the humanity of Jesus Christ too. As scripture scholars John Donahue and Daniel Harrington point out, Jesus “acts with a deep feeling of compassion, and he touches a leper, thereby affirming his shared humanity and incurring ritual defilement on himself.” When God in Christ Jesus reaches out to heal us, it is neither from a distance nor with a bolt of disembodied power. Instead, the healing of God is a self-implicating healing, a touch that requires the God of creation to bow low to embrace us in the chosen humility described in the Letter to the Philippians (2:5-11). In this sense, we see on display the full solidarity of the Word-made-flesh–a solidarity that leads Christ Jesus to take upon himself the burdens, wounds, and suffering we experience.
As we pause the liturgical season of Ordinary Time this week and shift gears to begin Lent, may we reflect on whether and how our faith leads us to Christ. Do we have the humility to recognize our need for healing, the confidence to trust in God, and the openness to learn about who we are and who Christ is in the process?
 John R. Donahue and Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, Sacra Pagina vol. 2 (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2002), 91.
Rev. Daniel P. Horan, OFM
Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology
Co-Editor of New Theology Review