Think Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit community.
Right. Is that how you approach scripture?
The best way to approach it is not in some intellectual form, in the sense of researching and all of the different pieces that go with it.
But he said the best way to approach scripture is to put yourself in the story.
And if we were to do that today in light of this account from Mark, which is the last of a series of accounts that make up Chapter 1 of Mark’s gospel, we would have a choice.
We could be the leper. We could be Jesus, or we could be the people who are not even mentioned in the story. [We could be] His disciples and the people who were around him when this incident took place.
And as we would do that, we would have to have in the back of our mind.
That first reading. That first reading, which was so powerful in the instruction to Moses and Aaron as to how someone with leprosy was to be treated.
People feared leprosy. Leprosy. Because they felt that it was very contagious.
And it had a very debilitating effect, in a sense, it would rot the skin of a person.
And so the fear was that if you touch someone with leprosy, if you came in contact with someone with leprosy, you could get infected.
Probably not too different from COVID-19 as we talk about it today.
But the interesting thing, as you listen to the story and again, the instruction was very simple: if somebody was diagnosed with leprosy, out of concern for the community, they had to isolate themselves. They could not be part.
And the story goes that they would have to have a bell and they would ring the bell in front of them, warning people that they were lepers, so that people would get out of the way. But they in turn, really, were told you don’t even come.
Into any public sector, you must isolate yourself, put yourself off to the side. I ask you again back of your mind.
You’re the leper. Well, there was a rule, and that was that if a leper violated the rules of the day. The leper could be stoned. Because again, the leper was putting others at risk.
So if you are the leper in this story, you have to be thinking. Why would he risk this? — was she? We don’t know if it’s a man or woman — why would they risk it? What could motivate them to put themselves at risk in this fashion?
And you would have to say. Well, they must have had a sense of confidence in Jesus, that he would not reject them. That he would not be afraid of them. And so the Leper.
Manifests courage. Courage, born of faith in the person of Jesus.
But then think about the person of Jesus. When the leper comes up to him.
He could have said, Get away, get away! But he doesn’t. He not only welcomes the Leper, but he touches the Leper. In a sense, He puts himself at risk of contracting the disease of leprosy. But there’s an interesting phrase that Mark puts in there.
He says, “That when Jesus saw the leper, His heart was moved with pity.” His heart was moved with pity and not pity, in a sense, gives him the ability to reach out. To touch and to embrace. And to heal.
It says that after Jesus touches the leper.
The Leper was cleansed. So you have the Leper who puts himself or herself at risk? Jesus, who puts himself at risk?
And because both are willing to engage with each other.
A new beginning. A new beginning for the leper.
And a new beginning for Jesus. But think also, maybe you don’t want to be the leper and maybe you don’t want to be Jesus. Right.
So you’re one of the observers. You’re one of the disciples who’s gathered there with him or perhaps the crowd, because we know that one of the things that is always there in Mark’s stories is the crowd.
Well, you could imagine that some of them were horrified. Look what he’s doing. Look, what are you doing? He’s breaking the Law. He’s putting himself at risk. He’s encouraging the leper to break out of his cage. [You] could imagine the reaction.
Certainly, the disciples are probably thinking to themselves, he’s crazy.
And the crowd is horrified. Yet, yet they have to see the result of the encounter. It says that the Leper, even though Jesus told him. Be quiet and go off. Go show yourself to the priest.
Go through the ritual of being acknowledged as cured, the Leper immediately goes around celebrating the fact that he’s been made whole.
He goes around celebrating this new moment in his life.
And they would have to see that. And so for some of them. For some of them. It was a moment of conversion.
Because what he expected didn’t occur.
Well, think of it as Mark telling the story in this first chapter and go back to the beginning of this first chapter. Jesus comes after his baptism and being tempted comes out into the public.
And what are his first words? The Kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent and believe. The kingdom of God is at hand.
How will you know that the kingdom of God is at hand?
You will see. The action of God in overcoming the evil.
The limitations, the ostracization and all of those things that had become so much a part of the life experience of the people.
You will see them being broken, being shed.
And a new moment. Opening up a leper is healed.
A broken person is made whole. People can take risks, the risk. The risk is the love, God loves.
It’s a powerful story. And it’s a challenging story because in a sense, well, thank God leprosy certainly has been controlled and in many, many cases eliminated. Although there are still leper communities in our world.
But the power of the story is tremendous. Because it basically says to us:
If you allow yourself to be touched by Jesus you will be made whole. And if you are made whole. You will have the freedom. Of living in the kingdom. And if you have the freedom of living in the kingdom. You will be at one in the heart of God. For you will be free to love as God loves you.
And that would open not only doors to you, but it will open doors to those you touch.
Let us pray that God give us the faith, the courage, the will, the grace, to follow the example of Jesus.