February 11: The Day of the Lord

Most English translations of Mark 1, 40-45 (this Sunday’s Gospel) say that Jesus was “moved with pity” when He saw the leper who approached Him. This “movement” on the part of Jesus has traditionally been rendered “moved to His intestines” or “He felt it in His gut.” There are, however, some modern Bible scholars who raise the bar even higher. They tell us that Jesus’ response also indicates that He was “angry” or even “indignant” when He encountered the leper. This is connected to the fact that, after healing him, Jesus spoke sternly to him about showing himself to a priest.

Does it surprise us that Jesus was moved so deeply? Does it surprise us that He felt things “in His gut?” What does it mean, though, that He was angered by all of this?

Jesus was not angered by the leper, but by the social and religious conditions of the day. For example, He was assuredly angered by the unjust and inhuman social isolation and ostracism to which the lepers were subjected. In those days, a leper had no right either to medical care or to other kinds of help from the community. As the Book of Leviticus demanded, lepers had to wear tattered clothes, keep their hair uncombed and uncut (as was true of mourners), and they had to shout out a warning to others about their “unclean” condition. Further, lepers were taken away from their families and forced to live in isolated colonies or in caves outside the city. Does Jesus’ anger at their treatment now make more sense?

Also, Jesus could have been angered by the blasphemous religious explanation of the day that all leprosy was God’s punishment for grave sins. Wasn’t it already horror enough that lepers were treated so poorly, did they really deserve to be considered “cursed creatures” by their religion, too? Do we appreciate this? Lepers were not only considered physically loathsome, but were looked upon as persistent sinners. In fact, even if they were cured, they had to submit to a ritual cleansing and purging of sin before they would be readmitted to society. That might be precisely why Jesus healed the leper by “stretching out his hand, touching him” – touching the legally untouchable. By instructing the healed leper to go and show himself to the priest, Jesus may have been challenging the religious authorities to see this: that which is at the heart of Jesus’ work – that God’s healing grace is available to anyone who asks.

Let us pray. “Almighty God, you raised your Son’s Cross as the sign of victory and life. May all who share in His suffering find, especially in your Sacraments, a source of fresh courage and healing. Please take all of your children under your care, for you know our physical and spiritual needs. Transform our weakness by the strength of your grace and confirm us in your Covenant, so that we might grow in faith and love. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Translate »