SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
“’If you wish, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, ‘I will do it. Be made clean.’” Mk. 1:40-41
The Gospel of Mark is often portrayed as something akin to being the red-headed step-child of the whole New Testament. For centuries his narrative was regarded as being of little significance. It suffered a fate not unlike that of Cinderella: languishing in the kitchen, waiting for her prince to rescue her.
There are many reasons for this, not the least of which being that it doesn’t contain within it the gorgeous infancy narratives that make up our present day Christmas story, or the magnificent drama of the final judgment scene, or the dazzling parable of the Prodigal Son, or the astounding story of Lazarus exiting a tomb.
And so, for a long time, Mark became a neglected gospel.
Now we recognize what wasn’t so well understood before. Now we see the historical context in which this gospel was written and how Mark’s gospel, unlike the other three, takes us straight into a world inhabited by demons and evil forces with which Jesus is constantly in conflict.
The evil forces were those of the brutal Roman Empire. In fact, most scholars now believe that this gospel was written in Rome for the purpose of strengthening the faith of those early Christians who were facing terrible persecution.
The demons were the evil spirits, principally Satan, that people at that time fervently believed ruled the world.
One of the main strategies of Mark’s gospel, then, was to demonstrate two convictions: 1. The Emperor of Rome was not the Lord of the Universe. Jesus was. 2. Satan was undeniably strong, but Jesus was the “Stronger One.”
From the beginning of Mark’s gospel to the end, Jesus is presented as the Lord of the entire natural world: the wind, the seas, the skies – they are all under his power. He is also the Lord, the Stronger One, when it comes to the ability to heal all the diseases and all the illnesses that the world at that time had no answer for – especially, leprosy.
This plunges us head long into today’s gospel story. Leprosy was the most dreaded of all diseases at that time because it separated people from their family and their community, and thus constituted a “living death.”
It’s remarkable, then, that the leper, desperate to be healed, does three things, none of which were allowed by Jewish law: he approaches Jesus, kneels down in front of him, and begs for him to “make me clean.” The leper treats Jesus as someone with divine power – a power much greater than Satan and the Emperor combined!
What happens next is a heartrending depiction of one of the most vivid portrayals in all the gospels of Jesus’ humanity, joined with his divinity. “Moved with pity,” Jesus does three things: he stretches out his hand, touches him, and speaks directly to the leper: “Be made clean.”
Jesus, The Stronger One, has ultimate power, even over the most feared of diseases that no one before has ever been able to conquer. And yet he does it with the greatest sense of compassion and tenderness, and does it for the “least of these,” the human outcast.
This is why Mark closes this stunning story of healing power with these words: “… and people kept coming to him from everywhere.”
And they still do, especially when we Jesus followers do the same as our Lord: with deep compassion, we stretch out our hands to the disadvantaged, touch them, and lead them to a place of hope and healing and great joy – a place where they are “made clean.”
Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D.