Jesus, like us in all things but sin
February 16, 2003

Al Cariño
6th Sunday in Ordinary Times
Reproduced with Permission

The book of Leviticus has strict prescriptions on people afflicted with leprosy. It says, "The one who bears the sore of leprosy shall keep his garments rent and his head bare, and shall muffle his beard; he shall cry out, 'Unclean, unclean!' As long as the sore is on him he shall declare himself unclean, since he is in fact unclean. He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp" (Lev. 13:45-46).

In the gospel reading, we see Mark going into the details of the cure of a leper by Jesus -- its before, during and after (Mk. 1:40-45). He begins by saying that a leper came to Jesus, fell on his knees and begged Him, saying, "If you want to, you can cure me." Notice that the "if" comes before the "want", not before the "cure". In phrasing his petition thus, he was just putting into words what he had been experiencing as an outcast all along -- no one wanted to help him. And he did not exempt Jesus from this.

How did Jesus react to the leper's petition? The translation we use for this part (The Jerusalem Bible) says, "Feeling sorry for him, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. 'Of course I want to!' he said. 'Be cured.'" But according to scripture scholars, many of the Greek manuscripts say that on hearing the leper's petition phrased that way, Jesus fumed! We can see a trace of this when Jesus prefaced His "Be cured" with "Of course, I want to!"

Despite this, Jesus healed him. Then He sent him off with a strong warning: "See that you don't tell this to anyone." And to fulfill the law, He ordered him, "Go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them."

But the man ignored His warning: he "went away and began to publicize the whole matter." As a result, their roles were reversed. Whereas the healed man could now move about freely, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but remained outside in deserted places. Nevertheless, people still came to him from everywhere, to listen to Him as well as to be healed of their diseases.

From this account, we see that though Mark's goal in writing his gospel is to show that Jesus is really "the Son of God" (Mk. 1:1), which he accomplishes by citing the conversion of the centurion who on seeing Jesus breathed His last, said, "Truly this man was the Son of God!" (Mk. 15:39), he also wants to show that Jesus is truly man, one who reacts to events with authentic human emotions. Thus in the pages of Mark's gospel, we see Jesus getting ruffled, called "insane" by his relatives, rejected by his own townmates, bursting out in anger when people He is trying to help question His intentions, annoyed when people misrepresent Him so that he has to tell them to keep quiet, gets irritated with hypocrites, sweats and gets tired, gets hungry and thirsty, experiences pain, revolts at the prospect of suffering, etc. In effect, Jesus is a man with strengths and weaknesses, a man who suffers and thus a man like us and with whom we can identify.

In view of this, there is hope for the "modern lepers" among us -- prisoners, prostitutes, those with AIDS and infectious diseases, the lonely, the rejected, those who suffer injustice, the marginalized poor, in short, those of us ignored by society. We can live in hope because Jesus our Savior is not a stranger to suffering.

But Mark does not only present Jesus as a healer -- which in itself is already a messianic sign, that is, through His ministry of healing, Jesus is showing that the Reign of God is now at work in our midst -- sickness, suffering and death having been brought into the world by the Evil One. He also presents Jesus as a teacher: He has come to proclaim the Good News of salvation, that the Reign of God has began, and to become members of His Kingdom, we are to live its values.

To carry this out, we have St. Paul as our guide when he said in the second reading (1Cor. 10:31-11:1), "Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.... Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." However, Jesus wants us to do all this not to win the praise and adulation of people but in secret when He said, "Don't let your left hand know what the right hand is doing" and then let the Father be our judge. Moreover, Jesus wants to let our good deeds speak for themselves; to make them as living testimonies of the goodness and love of God who continues to act in our midst and through us.

When we do all this in the way Jesus wants us to, we are contributing our share in bringing about the spread of the Reign of God on earth and in others. After all, it is for this reason that Jesus became like us in all things except sin, even dying for us so that we may find life -- a meaningful one here and an everlasting one thereafter.