Our readings this Sunday open very simply. The first reading is from Leviticus. The Gospel is going to be about the healing of a leper, so we start by reading part of the Old Testament rules about lepers. You can get a better sense of this if you glance at the reference in your Missal: “Reading 1: Lev. 13:1-2, 44-46.” Verses 1-2 and 44-46. What do you suppose is in the middle? More of the same!
But the basic point is made clearly in the second part: “The one who bears the sore of leprosy . . . shall cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean!’ As long as the sore is on him he shall declare himself unclean, since he is in fact unclean. He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.”
The Hebrew is even more dramatic: instead of “he is in fact unclean” it just says, “he [is] unclean.” It’s just a fact.
The law seems harsh. He has to dwell apart, alone. He has to tell everyone he sees to stay away from him. And there is much else besides, in verses 3-45.
But the only thing harsh is the reality. Leprosy is a horrible, and very contagious, disease. He is unclean. What misery.
Mark’s Gospel continues to rush along. After the first physical healing, last week, this week we have the first leper, and the first request.
The dialogue is bracingly direct. “If you will,” says the leper, “you can make me clean.” “I do will it.” English is a cluttered language. In Latin it’s just, “Si vis.” “Volo.” The horror, not just of the Old Testament, but of humanity, the paradigmatically horrible disease of leprosy, is completely subject to the Lord’s will.
Volo. Poof! Jesus has power over nature, power to heal.
Again comes the same little theme in Mark. “See that you tell no one anything.” “The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad.” “People kept coming to him.”
Jesus wants to heal – he “wills it”! But he does not want to be known merely as the physical healer. His works have a deeper mystery in them, somewhere higher he “wants” to bring us. The one who has power over leprosy has power, too, over our loneliness, our distance, our sin. He has power to unite us to the Father.
With Ash Wednesday this coming week, we take our long break from Ordinary Time. But if we continued, the next reading would be the paralytic to whom Jesus says, “your sins are forgiven.” “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?”
It’s a wonderfully paradoxical question: it’s easier to say “your sins are forgiven,” but vastly more difficult to accomplish the true healing of sin. But the point is, He who has power over one has power over the other. He heals the paralytic, and the leper, not so people will come find a miracle worker, but so that they will find a Savior.
Our second reading continues our tour of First Corinthians. It is just four verses, but very rich.
“Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. . . . I try to please everyone in every way, not seeking my own benefit but that of the many, that they may be saved.”
First: the glory of God. There is a direction in all this. There is direction in the miracles: Jesus doesn’t come just so we can heal leprosy (wonderful as that is). He does not come to make us comfortable in this world. He comes to lead us to the glory of God.
But we can put the same point the opposite way: he leads us to the glory of God through healing. There is direction in all this. No, physical healing is not the end – but it is the means, the path, the way.
So second: Paul does “try to please everyone in every way.” Our works of healing, of whatever kind, do have significance. Paul does not try to please because pleasing people is an end in itself. No – he is “not seeking his own benefit.” In fact, Paul isn’t seeking his own healing – except for the supreme healing that Jesus offers him.
Healing is not an end in itself: but it is the means, the way that Jesus shows his love, and his power to save, and the way that we show Jesus’s powerful love to the world.
Where are you called to bring healing?