In order to fully benefit from reliving the cleansing of a leper as reported by Mark (1: 40-45) we should keep in mind that the evangelist wants us to expect Jesus, today, to apply the very same power to free us of the ailments that afflict us.
Lest we might either downplay our ills or not expect much from Jesus, we must remember that he is God made flesh; he is anointed by the Spirit; he is baptized by John the Baptist; he is officially introduced to the whole world as the beloved Son of the Father; he is led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan in the wilderness (as opposed to the Garden of Eden) so that his mettle could be tested before he sets out to overthrow Satan’s kingdom and replace it with God’s Kingdom.
In order to start his mission to overthrow Satan, Jesus picks twelve men to be his closest helpers, preaches a Gospel of repentance and proves to God’s hurting people how close, in him, God is to their plight.
He begins to defeat Satan by making people aware of God’s care and power by curing all their ills and by casting away Satan’s minions that had a strong grip on so many.
Right at this point, Mark places this encounter of Jesus with a leper.
At first it seems like the usual, plain account of one of countless miracles performed by Jesus. But it isn’t!
Leprosy was so dreaded that people knew that God alone could cure it by exercising the same awesome power needed for raising one from the dead!
I imagine this miracle taking place in an atmosphere of anger. It is God’s anger caused by the realization that his Garden of Eden, blessed with harmony and order and peace, has been turned into a wilderness of thorns and thistles for all victims of Satan’s guiles.
It is also the anger of the victims. The leper kneels down and begs: “If you will…” as if to imply: “are you, too, going to disappoint me?”
He was experiencing firsthand that Satan had brought havoc and disorder into the Garden of God’s creation and turned it into a wilderness of pain, despair, darkness and isolation.
So, “if you will…” becomes a challenge that Jesus, anointed by the Spirit, takes up with…anger and resolve.
Moved with pity…this is a benign, yet unfortunate, softening of the original Greek text. The more accurate translation would be: moved by anger and indignation, Jesus stretches out his hand.
Why anger and indignation? Because, Jesus, our God, is seeing with human eyes exactly the extent of the disorder and devastation that Satan had wrought to God’s beautiful, good, and wholesome creation.
“Anger and indignation” visibly, palpably alter the face, the voice and the heart of Jesus, because of the disruption and isolation that an evil such as leprosy had wrought upon this unfortunate fellow.
Inevitably, as intended by the Father in sending him to earth, Jesus, charged by a surge of the Spirit’s power, does the unthinkable, the taboo: he intentionally breaks the Law of Moses.
The depth of his compassion, fed by anger, pushes him to contaminate himself by touching the outcast, the marginalized, the isolated.
We must not forget that this is Jesus, our God, isolated and marginalized by his own people since his birth as there was no room for him within the town of Bethlehem; and who would die on a cross, outside the walls of the Holy City of Jerusalem, to restore unity, harmony, fellowship, solidarity and order to the whole of creation.
This mind-blowing gesture is comparable to us handling bodily fluids of one dying from AIDS without wearing latex gloves even though we would have an open wound.
Such is the anger and indignation in the heart of Jesus over the sinister work of Satan.
Jesus knows that the prolonged war to overthrow Satan would be much harder than anticipated and would demand all of his energies down to the last drop of his blood.
Warning him sternly…Again, the original Greek text conveys the idea of one (Jesus) overwhelmed by strong emotions, almost unable to utter a sentence with cohesiveness, muttering threats to bind the former leper to silence so that he could, surreptitiously, gain some ground on Satan.
He dismissed him at once…the more accurate way of saying what Jesus does would be: he chased him away….
It must be a gesture consistent with one who, in his boundless love, has decided to go all the way; one who has thrown caution to the wind, taken the plunge, no matter the personal cost, to win the prolonged war with Satan and who is saying to himself: “This is done; who is next?!”
My dear friends in Christ, our faith assures us that the very same Jesus is here with us, today, to reenact for us what Mark has reported in this gospel narrative.
The war with Satan continues. If nothing else, it has intensified because so many people live as if Satan did not exist or as if Jesus had already won the war and is in the process of mopping up the last pockets of resistance.
We just have to look with honesty inside our hearts to convince ourselves that the war goes on.
What do we find? Envy, lust, greed, hatred, indifference, anxiety, brokenness, despair, what?
And if, by God’s grace, we were to find only mild wounds in us, we have only to look around and see how much more anger Jesus has to feel before his day is done.
Yet, we are assured of the final outcome because, in his Resurrection, Jesus has already destroyed the scariest weapon Satan had: death. Still, the war rages on in and all around us.
It is the war waged to restore the beauty, the order, the unity, and the harmony that God had originally placed in his creation.
In the meantime we shall ask: “What is the hurt, the worry, the disorder, the problem that is altering my life now? Can I dare, at long last, to tell Jesus with anger and frustration: “’If you will…’?”
The time has come for us to allow Jesus to contaminate himself with our ills and restore order and harmony in and around us.
Best one in a while! I preach this weekend and, if you don’t mind, will steal most of this as it’s perfect for where I was going with my own homily.