If You Wish, Make Me Clean!
The book of Leviticus in the Hebrew Scriptures is almost entirely about the laws meant to teach the Israelites always to keep themselves in a state of external purity to signify their internal sanctity and union with God. Thus, today’s reading about anyone afflicted with leprosy seems harsh at first glance. And it is very sad to be exiled “outside the camp” of the community. But it also shows God’s concern for the people that they not spread a highly contagious disease. Isolation itself can become more disabling than the leprosy that caused it. The common thinking of the time was that such an affliction was divine punishment. How sad, even frightening, that we can still find evidence of that kind of skewed thought in our public discourse today.
So it is quite astonishing when the leper in Mark’s Gospel kneels before Jesus and declares: “If you wish, you can make me clean.” His absolute reliance on Jesus’ compassion and ability to heal is a beautiful thing for us to emulate as we begin Lent. Jesus didn’t just wave a blessing at him from a distance, Jesus “stretched out his hand and touched him!” That is another action we need to imitate and repeat often. There is a powerful lesson from each of them in this seemingly simple exchange.
Although leprosy is not the stigma it once was because of treatments and cures, we have substituted other dis-eases in its place. We shield ourselves from HIV patients, those with mental illnesses, the homeless, the drug or alcohol addicted, the disabled and myriad others that society may choose to exclude. Too often we just don’t want to confront those who make us feel uncomfortable in any way. This dis-ease can breed prejudice, hatred and exclusion as virulent as any we’ve ever seen.
As we approach the altar on Wednesday to receive the ashes of our humanity, we can ask Jesus to heal us from the leprosy that creeps into our spirits to foment resentment to anyone we deem “different.”
Dear Jesus, heal us of any trace of racism, xenophobia, homophobia, ideas of our own superiority that would allow us to exclude any of our brothers and sisters from your loving embrace. Keep us in that state of external purity that exhibits the depth of our relationship with you. We rely on your compassion as we plead” “If you wish, you can make me clean.”