Last Updated on January 13, 2023 by GMC
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
Healing Our Wasteland
Seven centuries before the birth of Emmanuel, the prophet Isaiah had proclaimed, “The Lord shall comfort Zion… Her wilderness he shall make like Eden, her wasteland like the garden of the Lord” (Isaiah 51:3). Assuming the flesh of our wasteland, the Son of God stretched forth his hand to cleanse and beautify us.
Though lepers were unclean under the law, Jesus touched his suffering brother with compassion. “All things are clean to the clean,” writes Origen in a homily on the healing of the leper, quoting Titus 1:15.1
Christ’s radical action demonstrated the all-embracing love of God. Fearlessly touching the leper, Jesus, who could not be defiled, removed defilement. In effect, he touched not a leper but a “body made clean.”
Through his power to heal, Jesus fulfilled the purity laws by purifying everyone and everything he touched. “For the leprosy did not defile his hand,” writes St. John Chrysostom, “but his holy hand cleansed the leprous body.”2
Christ Sets Us Free
Upholding the law of Moses, Jesus directed the healed brother to show himself to a priest and offer the prescribed sacrifices for cleansing (Leviticus 14:1-32). Ceremonial birds and lambs of atonement prefigured “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). At the end of the eight-day ritual, the priest released the cleansed man into society.
A Blooming Paradise
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 would die and rise, transforming the wasteland of our humanity into a blooming paradise.
Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand,
Touched a leper and our common wasteland.
1 Origen, Fragments on Matthew 2.2-3. Published in the 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).
2 St. John Chrysostom, The Gospel of St. Matthew, Homily 25.2. Published in ibid.