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. – Mark 1:41-42
Over the past year, we’ve all been profoundly impacted by an illness that is contagious and isolating like leprosy. At some point in recent months, most of us have presented ourselves to authorities, praying that our cold is only a cold. We’ve all spent time forced to dwell apart from the rest of the world, just as the lepers did. And just like leprosy, the ramifications of this disease have been devastating. Perhaps your mental health is failing or your friends and family are struggling. Maybe your finances have taken a turn for the worse. Perhaps you yourself were incredibly sick. Maybe you even lost a loved one to COVID-19 or some other horrific death.
So the ease and speed with which Jesus heals the leper in this Sunday’s Gospel may feel like a slap in the face.
How many times have we been in the position of this leper, falling on our knees before Jesus and begging, “If you wish, you can make me clean. If you wish, you can make this COVID test come back negative. If you wish, my family member will live. If you wish, my mental illness will be cured. If you wish, my addiction will disappear.”
These are good desires. So why does Jesus wish this man’s healing and not our own?
I don’t know. And at the end of the day, that’s alright. I have to remind myself that saying, “Thy will be done” isn’t supposed to be easy. It isn’t even supposed to make complete sense. It is the prayer gasped by the Son of God sweating blood from sorrow. To say, “Thy will be done” in this broken world is to be united with the greatest and darkest paradox in the universe: God’s own suffocation and death.
But it is in that happy fault and darkness illumined with hope that the leper’s story becomes our own.
The Gospel begins with the phrase, “A leper came to him.” Not, “A man with leprosy,” but, “A leper.” This man has been stripped of all dignity and identity. He is known purely by his disease. And yet something in his soul stirs in response to the sound of Jesus’ feet that trod the dirt of Galilee. The gift of Faith is kindled in his restless heart and he comes to Jesus.
When you come to Jesus, you are seen. Not your leprosy, but you, Jesus’ own creature crafted in His image and likeness. Of course He sees your sickness. He sees your sin. He sees the burden that you long to have removed. But first and foremost, He sees you.
When you kneel before Jesus and beg, “If you wish, you can make me clean,” He is moved with pity for you. Allow yourself to look into His eyes, set so keenly on you. Do you see the pity? Do you see the eyes which quiver at the pain you are in? Do you see the love that radiates from His gaze, that almost audibly murmurs, “If you only knew the glorious joy that is coming soon?”
His perfect human heart knows no bounds in love and pity. It is so great that He stretches out His hand. He stretches it out against a plank of wood and a nail bores into His palm. Isn’t this the ultimate act of love and sacrifice that is re-presented at every Mass when He hear the priest say in the person of Christ, “This is my body, which will be given up for you?” Your broken heart has longed for healing. But has it dared to hope for a love so reckless and profound?
At every Mass, we come to Him. We kneel. We let Him see us. We say, “If you only say the word, my soul shall be healed.”
“And this is the marvel of marvels:”1 Tomorrow at Mass, He will touch you. As you receive His Body and Blood in Holy Communion, that same hand that touched the leper, was nailed to the cross, and showed itself to Thomas will literally touch you. And He won’t just touch you for a moment, as He did for the leper. He will literally enter into you and become one flesh with you.2
A priest here in Cincinnati recently said in a homily, “The essence of Christianity is to touch the untouchable.” This is Christ’s great work and joy that was not confined to three years of ministry 2000 years ago, but occurs every day when we approach Him in the Sacraments, most especially in Confession and the Eucharist. When we encounter Jesus just as the leper did, we may not hear, “Be made clean,” and receive the physical healing we desire. But we will always hear, “I absolve you of your sins,” and, “This is my body.”
To hear those words just once is a far greater gift than the most miraculous temporal healing. Can you trust that He pities you enough to give His entire self over for you? Can you trust that He holds nothing back? Can you believe that He is enough?
1 – C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle
2 – Cecilia Cicone breaks open this uncomfortable beauty on the episode of the “Jesus Loves You, This I Know” podcast episode, titled, “because…He made women.”