“If you wish, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touch him, and said,‘I do will it. Be made clean.’— Mark 1:40-42
WHEN we think of leprosy in this Sunday’s Gospel, we imagine it as the Hansen’s Disease that people of the island of Molokai suffered from in the late 19th century. It’s the dreadful disease that disfigures a person’s face, shows horrible sores, melts the skin, and is highly contagious. A person who has this illness should isolate himself or live with people has it too.
But during the biblical times, leprosy covers almost any skin scab or sore that a person has. It refers to a group of skin disease called tzaraat characterized by scaling and peeling. So this could be any skin condition from psoriasis to eczema. It could be any skin problem that leaves scales and bacteria on furniture, making others and the home unclean.
So from strict Jewish cultural and religious views, anyone who has this disease and anyone who touches a person with this disease is impure and is not worthy to associate with people, including his or her family, and much more worship in the temple. A person with leprosy is an outcast and untouchable in the society.
You can now imagine the surprise of the man with leprosy (and the bystanders) in this Sunday’s Gospel when Jesus touched him, healed him, and made him clean again. He knew the consequence of Jesus’ touch: Jesus would scandalize others and would be considered unclean. So instead of saying, “Please Lord, I beg you touch me and heal me,” he said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” It’s like saying, “Lord, I know how people, including my family and friends, don’t want to be near me, and I know how terrible for others to see you touch me, so it’s up to you, if you wish, you can cure me. I just want to be with my family again. ” Moved with pity Jesus touched him and said, “I do will it. Be made clean.”
This healing incident fits well into the Gospel of Mark’s intention of presenting Jesus as one who inaugurates God’s reign by rescuing humanity from the isolation of sin and bringing it wholeness. It shows Jesus’ solidarity with the human suffering and his desire to heal and save us all. Jesus’ ministry is a ministry of reconciliation, of bringing people back to God. It’s a ministry of welcoming back and integrating people into the church and society. It’s a ministry of care and concern for those who are rejected, isolated, and repulsed. It’s the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom of forgiveness, healing, and transformation.
Isn’t this what evangelization is? We think of it as a big project, a huge program, a great but often insurmountable task to accomplish. But it’s not complicated as we think it is. It’s not just about proselytizing and presenting the truth of our Christian faith. It’s about being human, having those human qualities of compassion, empathy and willingness to make people part of our lives.
It’s more than being a great parish, with thousands of worshippers and a dynamic youth and young adult program, and ministries to every age. It’s about being “good”—good in the sense of being kind, loving, respectful, and caring for others. It’s gracious to the people who come to our doors and seek to be understood, appreciated, and accepted.
As Pope Francis says, evangelization is a one-on-one encounter, communion, and genuine love for all people. “On the lips of the catechist,” the Holy Father says, “the first proclamation must ring out over and over again: ‘Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you…nothing more solid, profound, secure, meaningful and wisdom-filled than that initial proclamation.’”
You may not be aware of the result of this genuine care and encounter with a single person. That person who felt loved and cared for will go around and spread the good news of this experience. The story of the leper in this Sunday’s Gospel attests to this truth. He could not keep to himself his miraculous healing. He went around publicizing what Jesus did to him.
In Mark’s Gospel, the end-result of any experience of healing, love, compassion, forgiveness is a call to discipleship, to participate in the mission of Christ. And this is what the man with leprosy showed to us. He too became a missionary disciple of Christ!
May we never lose sight of the heart of evangelization—to show them the love of Christ, to reconcile them to God, to welcome them and make them missionary disciples who can’t keep to themselves the Good News of Christ’s love and redemption! Amen.
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From a Filipino immigrant family, Reverend Rodel G. Balagtas was ordained to the priesthood from St. John’s Seminary in 1991. He served as Associate Pastor at St. Augustine, Culver City (1991-1993); St. Martha, Valinda (1993-1999); and St. Joseph the Worker, Canoga Park (1991-2001). In 2001, he served as Administrator Pro Tem of St. John Neumann in Santa Maria, CA, until his appointment as pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary, Los Angeles, in 2002, which lasted 12 years. His term as Associate Director of Pastoral Field Education at St. John’s Seminary began in July 2014.