A leper came to him and kneeling down begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” 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, and he was made clean. Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. Then he said to him, “See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.” The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere.Mark 1:40-45
Seven centuries before the birth of Emmanuel, the prophet Isaiah proclaimed, “The Lord shall comfort Zion… Her wilderness he shall make like Eden, her wasteland like the garden of the Lord” (Isaiah 51:3). The Son of God assumed the flesh of our wasteland and stretched forth his hand to cleanse and beautify us.
Under the law, lepers were unclean and untouchable, yet Jesus touched his suffering brother. “To the clean all things are clean,” writes Origen in a homily on the healing of the leper, quoting Titus 1:15.1 Nothing external can defile the clean of heart. Purity and beauty are neither skin deep nor confined to the outside of cup and dish, but radiate from the Spirit of divine charity in the soul.
Jesus the High Priest and Lord of creation cannot be defiled by anything that exists, for all being comes forth from the hand of “I AM.” Yet deferring to the law of Moses, the cleansed brother was directed to a priest to give proof of his cure. “This he did in order that the priest might understand that the leper was not healed by the law, but by the grace of God above the law,” writes St. Bede.2
News of God’s grace spread far and wide, driving Jesus into deserted places. His fame as a wonder worker eventually led to defamation and the Cross on Golgotha, the “place of a skull.” Cast out like a leper, Jesus died and rose, transforming the wasteland of our humanity into a blooming paradise.
Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand,
Touched the leper and our common wasteland.
1 Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Mark, Thomas C. Oden and Christopher A. Hall, editors, and Thomas C. Oden, general editor (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 25.
2 Catena Aurea of St. Thomas Aquinas, Mark 1:40-45.