[6th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B, Feb 15, 2015, Lev 13:1-2, 44-46 / Ps 32:1-2, 5, 11 / 1 Cor 10:31—11:1 / Mark 1:40-45]
“Of course I want to!” This was the reaction of Jesus when he was in front of the man with a dreaded skin disease—leprosy. The leper came to Jesus and pleaded on his knees “If you want to, you can cure me.” Feeling sorry for him, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. “Of course I want to!” he said. “Be cured!” And at once the leprosy left him and he was cured.
Leprosy was a dreaded skin disease and sufferers were rejected by society and forced to live outside the city walls. One effect of leprosy was to disfigure the afflicted and make their skin insensitive. One doctor, who is now a missionary priest in my community, told me that he had visited a leprosarium in Zambia in 1986, but what struck him the most was the fact that such places are still needed in our world. Leprosy is actually very curable nowadays if you diagnose it within six months of onset, and if later, medicine can at least stop it from progressing.
What struck him is the fact that we still have a “third world” and our fancy rich world can be insensitive to its poor neighbors. He concluded that there’s an underlying leprosy in us all. We all need our insensitivity healed.
What is this insensitivity? Sometimes it manifests as a lack of love for others. I remember once watching the news on TV. As the announcer was sharing about the calamities in the world I noticed I had a broken fingernail. As he continued to recount tragedies and various disasters my only concern was when my nail would re-grow again. This insensitivity is mirrored internationally. The money spent on arms each year ($800 billion) is more than twice the debt of all developing countries. And even the money spent on video games every year in the USA alone ($10 billion) could pay for clean drinking water to every person on the planet!
Sometimes it is even asked “Why does God allow suffering?” Maybe before having the gall to ask this I should first ask why does God let me remain so indifferent and insensitive? Perhaps we humbly need to recognize that we need to be healed. We need a Good Doctor, we need Christ, we need a Savior. Sometimes our indifference is to those closest to us. The original image of Christ in us can become disfigured and we become insensitive. It takes humility to accept this. “He so flatters himself in his mind that he knows not his guilt” warns the psalmist (Psalm 36: 2).
To cure us Jesus takes the infirmity upon himself. Although he was without personal sin, he assumes in his own flesh all our sin. To put our sins to death Jesus really dies. As St Maximus the Confessor (7th Century) explained, to kill off the dragon of death, Christ feeds it with a bait, a bait that will poison the dragon. What is the bait? His own pure and sinless flesh—“His flesh was set before that voracious, gaping dragon as bait to provoke him: flesh that would be deadly for the dragon, for it would utterly destroy him by the power of the Godhead hidden within it.” It may be that one could die for a good and worthy person but Christ dies for us while we are still sinners. He becomes the scapegoat. This is an expression that comes from the Old Testament. Once a year all the sins and wrongdoings of the people were placed upon a goat. The goat was sent out into the desert, outside of the walls of the city to die as an expiation for the sins of the people. Christ is made our expiatory sacrifice, dying outside of the city walls and putting our sins to death.
If you want to, Jesus, you can cure me. Feeling compassion for us he stretched out his hands on the cross and died for our sins. He goes to the cross to take away all our leprosy— the indifference, the pride, the violence. He takes away the sins of the world and destroys them in his own flesh. In doing so, he becomes the leper and the outcast. In fact many do not understand why he is on the cross. He is there for you and me. By his wounds we are healed.
Jesus, are you not angry about the way you were treated? About the indifference? Jesus tells us, “I do not come to condemn but to save. No one takes my life away from me, I give it up freely.” What is man that you care for him, mortal man that you keep him in mind? In his death we understand that he loved us and gave his life for us, willingly, and freely. Jesus if you want to you can cure us. “I do want to,” he said, and says to us now. “Be healed!”