LEVITICUS 13:1-2, 44-46; PSALM 32; 1CORINTHIANS 10:31-11:1; MARK 1:40-45
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Fr Galadima Bitrus, OSA: The Bible, Quarantine and Care for People Battling with Contagious Diseases
Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai: Jesus cures: you too can cure others
Fr. Paul Oredipe:‘If you will, you can make me clean’
Fr. Evaristus Okeke: God’s healing Power restores us
Fr. Peter Saliu: Jesus makes us clean
Fr Galadima Bitrus, OSA:
The Bible, Quarantine and Care for People Battling with Contagious Diseases
The term quarantine is both a noun and a verb, so it is both the condition and the act of isolating people (or animals) who have been exposed to a contagious disease. The outbreak of the corona virus in late 2019/early 2020 brought this once technical term into every day discourse. What does the Bible have to tell us about the phenomenon of quarantine? Today’s readings give us an insight.
In the 1st Reading (Leviticus 13:1-2.44-46), the Lord speaks to Moses and Aaron the Patriarch of the priestly family, instructing them on how to recognize contagious skin diseases described as “tzara‘at”, translated as “leprosy” or “leprous affection”; it also prescribes how to deal with such diseases.
The person who has the infection is to be taken to the priest Aaron or to one of his sons, who shall examine the affection to determine whether it has become leprous or not (Lev 13:1-2). If determined leprous, the person is declared unclean, his clothes rent, his hair shaved, his upper lips covered while he declares his uncleanness; he is also isolated: “he shall dwell apart; his dwelling shall be outside the camp” (Lev 13:44-46). Chapter 14 describes the cleansing process that reintegrates the affected person back into the community if he is declared healed.
These were all precautions to stop the spread of the contagious disease, especially its spread to the sanctuary, since concern for the sacred and religion in general permeated almost every aspect of life in antiquity. The law of God transmitted to his people through Moses was, therefore, the law of life. In fact, as Saint Paul says to the Corinthians in the 2nd Reading (1 Cor 10:31-11:1), “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (v. 31). But Saint Paul also adds that we do everything necessary to save all, giving no offense to no one, Jew or Greek (v. 32).
This delicate balance between doing all to the glory of God and not giving offense to no one but to do everything to save all is well maintained in the Gospel Reading (from Mark 1:40-45). We are told the story of the encounter between Christ and a leper, in Greek, lepros (one who is affected by a leprous disease).
Leprosy (as we heard in the 1st Reading) referred to various types of serious skin disorders. In this story, Christ saves the leprous man, restores his freedom and dignity, in a way that also pays attention to established precautionary measures of the law of Moses concerning people affected by leprous diseases.
The passage is replete with intense emotional language. The leper comes towards Jesus urging him, “If you really want you can cleanse me.” The Greek verbal participle parakalōn, translated as “begging” implies “encouraging”, especially somebody who is fearful and apprehensive. The term is used also to describe the action of the centurion who wanted Jesus to come to his house to heal his paralyzed servant (see Mt 8:5-13).
Both in the case of the centurion and of the leper, we are dealing with people with whom Jesus is not supposed to come in contact: the one for his uncleanness, the other for being a gentile and a Roman colonial occupier. They both approached Jesus encouraging him to help them, knowing that by so doing, Jesus was risking his religious and social standing among his people.
Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand, touched the man and said to him, “I earnestly want, be cleansed”, and the leprosy immediately left him.
The Greek term splagxnizo, translated as “moved with pity” literally means to have one’s inner organs being eaten. Therefore, Jesus is totally consumed from within by this man’s condition and could not resist helping him at any cost.
Having cleansed him, Jesus speaks to the man sternly, sending him away hurriedly in successive imperatives: go, show yourself to the priest and present the things concerning your cleansing which Moses had commanded, for a testimony to them.
However, despite Jesus’ stern warning, as soon as the cleansed man left, he too consumed with excitement could not resist proclaiming Jesus and the deliverance he brought into his life. He preached many things about Jesus, spreading the word, a situation that forced Jesus to stay away in deserted places and not come out openly or enter into the city. In this way, Jesus bore the suffering of the leper, keeping himself away from the people, which was the condition of the leper before meeting Jesus.
In addition to teaching us the fact that when human misery encounters divine mercy, the human person experiences the restoration of freedom and dignity, the response of Jesus to the leper’s need for cleansing challenges us not to fall into cold indifference in our relationship with those suffering various kinds of contagious diseases and prone to abandonment.
Our precautionary measures must have a human face; quarantining can be animated by compassion. The much creativity we put into identifying and isolating those with contagious diseases can be applied to our search for safe ways to stretch out our hands and offer them a tender touch of love which may just be the medicine they really need. We must try to find ways of making those suffering these kinds of diseases and situations to feel loved enough and cared for enough.
Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai:
Jesus cures: you too can cure others
Jesus cures a leper in today’s Gospel passage. In the Biblical sense, leprosy was described as a swelling of the skin, with crust and whitish patch, which severity might have been evaluated by the depth of the affected skin. We have the description of the disease, as well as the regulations connected with it, in the first reading Lev.13:1-2; 44-46 you can also find it in Numb. 12:10-15. The disease was highly contagious that the regulation demands that every leper should be isolated. So biblical history has had cases of isolation because of diseases – COVID 19 is not different.
Today apart from few centers we rarely will see any actual case of leprosy. But we have cases of spiritual leprosy everywhere. Like physical leprosy spiritual leprosy is a progressive loss of feeling that takes place not in our nerves but in our sensitivity to the Spirit and to its promptings. Physical leprosy leaves the leper horrible, disfigured and mutilated. In the same vein, spiritual leprosy leaves us horrible, disfigured and mutilates our beauty. Sin in truth, mutilates our spiritual beauty and corrupts our communion with man and God. Just as the leper asked for cleansing, every sinner needs to kneel before Jesus and ask for cleansing.
Just as Leprosy is contagious, sin is also contagious. It spreads trends and corrupts all who are not spiritually watchful and careful. Many ills are trending today; ranging from prostitution, insecurity, suicide to the rampart yahoo games and rituals. Like the contagious leprosy these moral diseases are very contagious. In campuses life is something else. Often times when youth are gathered they are concerned with how best to fake it before they make it; either through online frauds or rituals.
Nevertheless, good things trend too. Someone once said that “joy is more infectious than leprosy” Joy is something that can spread and everybody will become joyful. But then, often times when good things trend people get to corrupt it. For example; today the whole world is celebrating Valentine’s Day. What suppose to be a celebration of love is trending under many appearances today and instead of our youth to show love; they make love. Valentine is the celebration of genuine love not the celebration of sex. Recently, social media was crowded with themes on Stingy men association and Stingy girls association. The brains behind these themes go to show the poverty of morals in this country. So, for many youth; generosity is about their private part. The whole sense of generosity as it has to do with communicating God’s love is destroyed. So, a boy is stingy when he does not pay for sex and a girl is stingy when she does not open her leg without money. God help us!
Beloved, in Jesus we see genuine love and care. The gospel today says “Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him”. Touch is central to nursing and health care workers frequently they touch their patients, consciously or unconsciously in their interactions with them. They do this because they care. Biblically, to touch is to care. Beloved, you can still touch lives. You can still care for people. You can still show love. Jesus cured many diseases through love and care. We too can cure the diseases of loneliness and despair by showing love. Many people are dying out there for love. They just need to be told that they can live again, many families lack the touch of parents and relatives, many fear to live because they are not cared for. Many like lepers now live in isolation not in respect to COVID 19 policies but because no one really cares for them. Beloved, Jesus wants you and I to touch somebody today – that is, care for somebody today. Precisely because of this, St. Paul in the second reading calls us to be imitators of him as he is in Christ. We can imitate the saints in their virtues; we can imitate Christ pattern of love and care.
Going further; Jesus told the leper “see that you say nothing to anyone; but go show yourself to the priest”. He wanted the man to keep his healing as secret. This is a major theme in Mark’s gospel called the “Messianic Secret”. In Mark 1:25 he said to the demon be silent; in Mark 1:34, he did not let the demon speak; in Mark 1:44 he said to the leper say nothing to anyone; in Mark 3:12 he warned them sternly not to tell anyone who he was; in Mark 5:43 when he raised Jairus’s daughter back to life he ordered them not to let anyone know about it. So Messianic secret is a major theme in Mark and it refers to the silence which Jesus commands about his Messianic mission.
There are two basic reasons for the “Messianic Secret”. First, Jesus does not want his purpose to be altered as he noted in Mark 1:38 that his purpose is to preach. So he does not want his primary purpose to be distracted. If you don’t learn to keep quiet people we alter your purpose in life. The second reason is that Jesus didn’t want them to go around proclaiming that He was the Messiah because their expectation of the Messiah was a political deliverer. The Jews wanted someone who would free them from the Roman rule and set up a political kingdom. But Jesus is the Suffering Messiah who came to serve and to die. He came to set a spiritual kingdom not a political kingdom. In fact, because this title was so misunderstood Jesus had to substitute for other titles such as; “Son of Man” , “Son of David” and “Son of God”. Thus, Jesus wanted them to be silent so that they don’t misinform people about him. We must learn to be silent too so that we don’t misinform people or give wrong impression about people. However, we are told that this man went out talking freely about it. Am sure he never went back to the priest as instructed. Beloved, we must learn to control our mouth. Jesus has the power to cure the leprosy of our mouths but like the Leper we must kneel and ask him to make us clean. We must ask him to set a guard over our mouths and keep watch over the door of our lips.
Fr. Paul Oredipe:
‘If you will, you can make me clean’
Jesus came to show us how to handle suffering and to make it profitable. He accepted it as a powerful weapon to win salvation for us by going to the cross. To make His point clear, He did not banish sickness and all difficulties of life completely. Although He cured many diseases but not all and when He was asked to remain in one place so that He would continue to cure the sick, He rejected the idea outrightly. He made it clear that the purpose of His coming was to preach the good news of the kingdom and this must be done not in one place but in other places as well.
In the light of the Mosaic Law, as seen from the first reading of today, taken from the Book of Leviticus 13:45-46 and also from the common custom of the day, the fact that the leper in today’s gospel dared to come near the town and approached Jesus at all was a sign of the man’s great desperation and his even greater faith.
He approached Jesus with this humble request. This is the shortest prayer and a model of prayers. He was on his knees saying “if you wish, you can make me clean.” He would have said many other things but he summarized everything in this short prayer. Note he was not commanding Jesus. He was not rattling or shouting. He prayed humbly, not aggressively or arrogantly.
“If it is your will you can make me clean” (Mark 1:40). This leper provided his testimony of faith: “If you will, you can make me clean.” It is all there: the faith of this leper. “You can make me clean.” Such words demonstrate an enormous faith, an almost limitless faith in the omnipotence of God. This man, this leper, attracted by Jesus, supported by He who is the very author of grace, does that which is the necessary condition for his healing to take place. He believes in the omnipotence of God. There is only one thing lacking. God must want to put His omnipotence into action in order to heal this man of his leprosy. “If you will, you can make me clean.” The reality is that even this dreaded disease could not destroy the leper’s concept of his own value and dignity.
What will be our attitude as we approach the Lord today? Before receiving the Eucharist we will say, “Lord, I am not worthy, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” These words are very similar to the words and the prayer of the leper. And now, the question is whether we believe these words. Do we believe that we can be healed – not just in a physical way, but do we believe that the Lord is there for us – to touch our lives where there has been sin or imperfection or addiction or hurt?
We can go through all the motions of religion and church, but if our faith is not like that of the gospel leper, I am not sure much is going to happen. And his faith was in Jesus and in himself. Not even the terrible scourge of leprosy could make him feel that he was not worthy or deserving of approaching Jesus.
Each of us knows who we are. Each of us knows our successes and our failures and weaknesses. Think of that leper who never lost faith in God or in himself. Hopefully, that is the faith that we will bring as we approach Jesus in the Eucharist this day.
Jesus healed the leper. The faith of the sick man had to be rewarded. Jesus could not leave unanswered, the contact He had felt through the faith of the leper. From the moment that a person’s faith attains its objective, if this faith is pure and true, then the Lord decides to act, sooner or later. His omnipotence will be set in motion to come to the aid of our fallen humanity.
Like the woman who, suffering from a flow of blood (cf. Mk. 5:28-30), had touched Jesus not only with her hand (which had grasped the cloak of the Savior) but also with her immense faith, it was in this way that the leper we read about today was healed by the omnipotence of God in Jesus.
After the miracle, Jesus, respectful of the law and not recklessly defying the conventions of the land, sent the man to the priest to fulfill the prescribed ritual, to obtain a certificate of cure.
In the first place, Jesus desires that the priests and the religious authorities of His time recognize Him as the Messiah, He who was sent by the Father. “Go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to the people.”
The leper thought Jesus wanted secrecy merely out of humility. But how could he have told the priest without telling him the source of his healing? He started to tell everybody about his cure and the source of the cure. This is another way of making him a disciple. If you want an idea to spread, tell people not to tell anybody about it. As the news spread, the leper came to open while Jesus took his place. To save himself, He went into hiding.
What shall we learn from the story of the leper and the cure of the leper by Jesus? Today, who is a leper? The greatest leprosy is the leprosy of sin. Because of its repulsive ugliness and loathsomeness, the separation from others it entailed, the Church Fathers saw in leprosy an image of sin. All in all, sin even, is far uglier and far more loathsome than leprosy and it has far more tragic consequences in this life and in the world to come.
The leper today in the Gospel represents everybody who has committed sin. Just like the leper who was cut off, from the community of people, so every sinner is cut off from the presence of God. We are all lepers. Everybody who commits sin is a leper. We need cleansing from Jesus through His priest in the Sacrament of Confession and Reconciliation. Jesus touched the leper and became unclean ceremonially, although He had no sin but He carried away our sins by shedding His blood on the cross.
Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. We should not be afraid to approach Him like the leper and implore Him to take away our leprosy of sin. Try to make the use of the Sacrament of Confession a habit. No sin is too big not to be forgiven by God.
Jesus was glad to perform miracles, for He is the Healer par excellence, and He wants to heal us of all sicknesses. Above all, He wants to heal us of the sickness of sin. He wants to purify us of the leprosy of the soul, which we carry with us from generation to generation. The healing of the leprosy of the body carried out by Jesus is thus nothing other than a sign of the healing of the leprosy of the soul. The healing of the leprosy of the body, which Jesus ardently desires for him whom He will heal, is in reality but a means through which to prove to everyone His divine origin.
We still have lepers close by – people who, for one reason or another, are defined by their conditions and not treated as people: such like the homeless, the unattractive, the cripples, and the feeble of spirit and minded, people with AIDS in many ways are the modern lepers.
We must perhaps remind ourselves always that we ourselves are often in one way or another, inwardly leprous. We must decide what particular leprosy is calling to be healed here and now in our personal lives and in the life of our community. It could be leprosy of hatred, leprosy of unforgiveness, leprosy of idolatry, and leprosy of waywardness, leprosy uncommitted and aimlessness, leprosy of prayerlessness, and lukewarmness.
The Old Testament way was to exclude, and even to revile those who were sick; to dwell on punishment and just deserts. The way of Our Lord was to accept, to touch, to pardon, to restore, to forgive. In the Beatitudes, visiting the sick is one of the activities that marks out the Blessed. Jesus never exonerated anyone He met from personal responsibility. However, He was quite clear that God His Father was a God not of blame but of compassion. A God, not of vengeance, but of forgiveness. A God not of exclusion, but of inclusion of all who turned to Him.
St. Paul’s imitation of Christ in the Second Reading today will be our model and example. If Christ becomes the principle and pattern of our transformation, in being conformed to Him, we must each discover and realize our own unique identities as persons, and be healed of the leprous dispositions that obstruct our true selves.
God loves all of us. We, like Paul, are called to reach beyond the barriers and boundaries society is so good at setting up. Only Jesus who cleanses the leper in today’s Gospel can clean us to become like Him, no other person can do that for us. The more we become like Christ, the more surely do we discover the best of our true selves.
May the Most Blessed Virgin Mary help us with her prayer, which is all-powerful over the Heart of God. May we receive today, through Her and with Her, the Body of Christ, in order to make us ardent apostles of the Gospel, in the Love of the Almighty Father.
Our Jesus, we pray You, do not abandon us in our leprous condition. Give us your healing today and always. Amen
Fr. Evaristus Okeke:
God’s healing Power restores us
You are my hiding place O Lord_ (Ps.32:7)
Every encounter with Jesus is a teaching experience. The more we encounter him, the more we learn Him, His mission and His actions/words. In the gospel reading of last Sunday, Jesus was in the house of Simon and Andrew and when He was told that Simon’s mother-in-law laid sick with fever, He healed her. Immediately, this news went abroad and many persons came bringing their sick ones to Jesus for healing. But, no one brought a leper to Jesus. The reason for this purposeful exception is found in the first reading of today.
Leprosy is a communicable skin disease. It seems to be the worse and most dreaded disease of that time. For this reason once a person is confirmed a leper, he/she is immediately ostracized from the community after being publicly announced unclean. This is not to ridicule the leper but to protect others from contracting the disease through contact with the affected person. Lepers were left to themselves until they are cured either by themselves or by chance. To mingle with a leper will not be interpreted as a corporal work of mercy (to visit the sick) but as disobedience to the Mosiac Law. So, even though lepers existed as at the time Jesus was discovered to be a healer, no one bordered about them.
But then, it is surprising to discover that this Mosaic instruction on how to treat leapers came from God. The first reading opened with: “The Lord said to Moses and Aaron”. So the isolation given to lepers was an instruction from God himself. To jettison lepers was to be law abiding. Here we encounter another identity problem for Jesus. In the gospel reading, Jesus allowed a leper to come close to him, he interacted with the leper and he touched the leper. Humanly speaking, Jesus disobeyed the Law of God given through Moses. If Jesus is the Christ, why will he be disobeying God? God cannot contradict himself! So you see that even though it was surprising and baffling that Jesus had power to heal lepers too, it was confusing how to understand the person of Jesus by such act.
It is easy to understand Christ’s action when we learn that the revelation of God is gradual and so too man’s understanding of God’s revelation. When God was giving the instruction on how to isolate from lepers, He was not just addressing a skin disease but was figuratively addressing sin and its effect. When we sin, we are ostracized from God. It is not God who ostracizes us, but we do ourselves. When we dare to live outside of God’s mercy, we become “living dead” just like a typical leper.
Again, God wants us to be cautions of how we relate with “sinners”. Like leprosy, sin is a communicable disease especially when the “sinner” is obstinate in sin. So the principle of isolation from a leper that God gave to the people serves as a precautionary measure for us today. In as much as we must make effort to love the sinner but hate the sin, we must also guide against a situation whereby the evangelizer becomes evangelized negatively. The principle of “If you cannot beat them, join them”, should never be adopted.
Furthermore, God command to the people to isolate from lepers was also a form of preparation/anticipation of the messiah. From the moment Adam and Eve fell, redemption became a necessity and so the need for a redeemer was created. God’s dealings with the people in the Old Testament through intermediaries, always left traces of incompleteness which will become complete when the Messiah finally comes. The more hungry a person is, the more value he will place on food.
Consequently, when Jesus encountered the leper in the gospel reading, he was not disobeying God but was revealing God perfectly. In as much as sin ostracizes the sinner from God’s mercy, it is never the will of God that any sinner should perish. In Jesus’ action, the gospel acclamation was perfectly manifested: “God has visited his people”. Beloved, God’s first reaction to a sinner is not rejection but invitation to repentance. God’s mercy is not permission for sin but invitation to repent.
After the healing, the leper could now be restored to the communitarian life of the people. This is exactly what happens to us when we obtain the mercy of God – we are reunited to the New Family of God, the family of the saints. Amongst all other lepers, this leper dared to approach Jesus for healing because he was tired of living in isolation (just like the prodigal son) and he believed that Jesus could healed him too. When are we going to be tired of living in sin? Or are we going to sin more because today is Valentine’s Day?
Having seen how lepers were treated, it becomes obvious why in the today’s gospel, it was the leper who came to Jesus himself. No one brought him as was the case in the gospel reading of last Sunday. This should teach us that no matter how much we are loved by others, there is a limit to what others can do for us; not necessarily because they want to be selfish but because man is limited in himself. Let us never compromise our relationship with God on account of the security we enjoy from men. There are things only God can do for us. The psalmist recognized this truth and cried out: “You are a hiding place for me; you surround me with cries of deliverance”.
That notwithstanding, we are still called to be at our best in emulating the life of Christ. It is our vocation to love sinners and assist them to accept the Mercy of God. One common way people isolate from sinners today is by comparing “levels of holiness”. When we move around with a holier-than-thou mentality, we are isolating from sinners. In the second reading, St. Paul noted that in all things, he tries to seek the good of others and not his own advantage, for by so doing, he will be saved. Similarly, we actually become holier when we help others to be holy. God Bless You!
Fr. Peter Saliu:
Jesus makes us clean
On this 6th Sunday, the church continues to remind us that Jesus is a friend of all. So, He is willing to do the unimaginable to save us. Hence, the church calls us to make Jesus our role model by caring for the sick.
Our first reading and gospel have a lot in common. Both of them referred to the hopeless situation caused by leprosy. In Jesus’ time, leprosy was a dreaded disease such as HIVAIDS, Ebola and the Corona Virus which has killed many and paralyzed our world today. Contacting leprosy was a matter of life and death. Though it was a physical sickness, according to Jewish religious beliefs leprosy was broadly associated with sin. That is, leprosy was a punishment for a sin committed by its victim.
Hence, the immediate consequence of suffering from leprosy was that the patient automatically becomes an outcast and isolated. “As long as the disease lasts, the patient must live apart.” This is because it was believed that the person would contaminate others. Sadly, according to the law, the victim must identify and stigmatize himself by announcing “Unclean, unclean.”
Many people in our world today suffer and die not only of diseases but due to stigma. Yet, the truth is that apart from physical leprosy, because of our sins we are all lepers and outcasts. However, Christ touches and heals us through his mercy.
In the second reading, Paul implores us, “Take me as your model as I take Christ.” He presents himself to us as a model of sacrifice and care. Being a model means being close to people, especially in their weakness, sickness, and ensuring that they do not feel rejected. Paul did not seek the death of the sick for his comfort as many of us may be guilty of this. Instead, he tried to please everyone by being helpful to them at all times not for personal gain but to replicate the life of Christ.
In the gospel, Jesus continues to heal. Today, He encountered a leper. Instead of avoiding or stigmatizing the leper, he touched and healed him. The humble petition of the leper touched him: “If you want, you can cure me.” As a compassionate savior and master, Jesus responded with both words and actions: “Of course, I want to. Be cured!” By this statement, Jesus shows that even in sickness, we are of much value to him and can never stigmatize or exclude us.
How should we treat the sick, the weak, the poor, and those rejected by society? We must show them mercy and help them as Jesus did. Through his mercy and compassion, Jesus is always ready to free us from whatever makes us unclean.
THERE IS NOT A FRIEND LIKE THE LOWLY JESUS
- There is not a friend, like the lowly Jesus,
No not one, no not one.
None else could heal, our soul’s diseases,
No not one, no not one.
Chorus: Jesus knows all about our troubles
He will guide till the day is dawn
There is not a friend like the lowly Jesus
No not one, no not one._
- No friend like Him is so high and holy,
No not one, no not one.
And yet no friend is so meek and lowly,
No not one, no not one.
HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY TO YOU ALL!