"If you will, you can make me clean."
Mark 1:40

Both the Old Testament and New Testament readings draw out attention to the healing of two lepers. In the Bible, leprosy is a term used to describe various skin diseases which made one unclean.

Lepers suffered from the evil of social stigma and their life was one of isolation, banishment and discrimination. People avoided them because any form of physical contact with them made one ritually unclean. No right thinking person would touch a leper. Lepers were not part of the community and as a result they suffered politically, socially and economically. Lepers were an embarrassment to their families and the local community and were robbed of their human dignity. Social stigma is an evil which affects our relationships with people. When we stigmatise persons we devalue them and treat them less than human.

In today’s Gospel a leper approaches Jesus with this request: "If you will, you can make me clean." This man has no doubts about Jesus ability to make him clean; he wants to be made clean so that he can be restored to his community. In this scenario Jesus does not see one who is unclean, he sees a person made in God’s image who has a great need and he responds to that need. What is more interesting is the fact that Jesus breaks the laws and traditions and touches the man with the words "I will; be clean." Jesus is willing to become unclean so that the leper can be made cleaned. He risks his reputation and restores the leper to his community: "See that you say nothing to any one; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to the people."

What can we make of today’s Gospel reading? The Gospel reading invites us to be kind to all people and to put away any form of prejudice or stigma that prevents us from seeing anyone as a child of God. It is a question of attitude. What is our attitude towards persons who differ from us? Do we allow prejudice and stigma to affect the way we treat people? Many of us determine how we will treat people by our attitude and thinking. If our minds have negative thoughts about persons we will be unkind to them and fail to accept them as God’s children.

In today’s Gospel Jesus gives us an example to follow as he heals the leper. The Gospel says to us ‘go and do likewise’. We must have the courage to overcome stigma and reach out to all who need our love. What is our attitude towards people who are living with HIV/AIDS? Do we see them as our brothers and sisters? Are we willing to touch them and give healing to their bodies and minds or do we believe they should be driven out from our communities and allow to suffer?

What is our attitude towards drug addicts, prostitutes, gay people, criminals, people who have physical challenges, the uneducated, non Christians, atheists and the like? Do we see these persons as God’s children who are worthy of our love? Do we have any kind of responsibility to these people? As Christians we are not to follow the societal thinking which says these persons are not to be loved and treated as God’s children. Following the example of Jesus Christ we must reach out to those the society has risen off and initiate a process of healing that would allow them to be integrated back into their communities.

Lepers who came to Jesus never asked to be healed; they always asked for mercy or to be cleansed. It was always a cry for help to be restored to the community. These persons were lonely and needed to be loved. The same is true today. There many persons in our society who are looking for acceptance back into our communities, they need our love, they are waiting for us to touch them and make them clean. What is preventing us from touching them? Why are we afraid to touch them? Why are we afraid to embrace and welcome people who differ from us?

Spiritually, today’s Gospel teaches that Jesus is able to make us clean. Sin makes us unclean and shuts us out from God’s community. Jesus can make us spiritually clean and restore us to God’s community. This process involves repentance and confessing our sins. Like the leper in today’s Gospel we must go and tell people how God changed our lives and invite them to allow God to do the same with their lives. The good news is not something to be kept privately; it is good news to be shared. Let us see this Gospel as an invitation to experience the cleansing power of Jesus and to share it with all people. The presence of personal sins in our lives dictates that we cry to Jesus "If you will, you can make me clean." Let us ask Jesus to cleanse us from every sin and set us free. 

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