We're still listening to the beginning of Mark's Gospel (Mk 1: 40-45). He continues to
present the main themes of Jesus' teaching and ministry, which he'll develop throughout
the rest of his work. That's why he deliberately places Jesus healing of a leper at
In the first reading (Lev 13:1-2, 44-46), we hear the horrible restrictions Judaism
(and all other cultures) placed on people suffering from chronic skin disease. The
consequences of being a leper are so horrendous that, to avoid "whisper
campaigns," only a priest can officially declare an individual leprous.
Though the five verses which comprise our liturgical selection are just a small part of
the 116 which the author gives to the subject, the last verse perfectly sums up the
public's attitude: The leper "shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the
camp." In other words, lepers aren't permitted to be part of Yahweh's people.
Today, we must judge Jesus' Gospel actions against the background of such
restrictions. Mark's key phrase seems to be, "Jesus stretched out His hand and
touched him." Jesus deliberately touches the man before He cures him. He touches him
while he's still a leper.
Jesus certainly knows that Torah law forbids "clean" Jews from coming into
contact with "unclean" persons. The slightest touch transforms the clean into
the unclean, subjecting them to a long period of purification -- a length of time which
must be scrupulously observed before they can again offer the sacrifices and perform the
rituals Yahweh demands. The irony here is that Jesus risks becoming unclean in order to
make the leper clean.
I recently read an article about someone I knew in the seminary 40 years ago: Larry
Rosebaugh. An Oblate of Mary Immaculate, Larry now ministers in Guatemala. But back in the
'70s, he responded to an invitation from Dom Helder Camara and lived homeless for six
years on the streets of Recife, Brazil.
Larry became one with the abandoned, the prostitutes, the down and out, the beggars,
the hungry. As the article states, he chose "to travel the path that nobody else
would take. He chose to be poor,...to be unconventional,...to bring the message of Jesus
Christ to uncharted places." He made himself unclean to care for the unclean.
Larry's unorthodox orthodoxy crated tensions. "Friends feared for his safety.
Police considered him a Communist. Some traditionalists in the Church thought it was
inappropriate for him to be living with society's castaways." Unlike many of us who
claim to minister in Jesus' name, Larry actually imitates the Jesus of Mark's Gospel.
No wonder Paul speaks (I Cor. 10:31-11:1) of "avoiding giving offense, whether
to the Jews or Greeks or the Church of God, just as I try to please everyone in every way,
not seeking my own benefit but that of the many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of
me, as I am of Christ!"
Both Mark's theological picture of Jesus, and Paul's broad imitation of Him demonstrate
that we, as other Christs, aren't just to break down the wall separating the
"ins" from the "outs." Even before the wall falls, we're to go over
it, and through it to become one with those on the other side. Our Sacred Authors believe
there's no other way to bring God's salvation to those who most need salvation.
During our seminary days, I don't remember Larry having any special intellectual
talents. He certainly didn't appear overly pious. But he obviously was developing a gift
most of us at the time didn't think that important, the one gift all of us should have
been developing: the gift of imitating Jesus.