11 January, 2013. Friday after Epiphany
1 Jn 5:5-13. God has testified to his Son, Jesus, who grants victory over this world
Lk 5:12-16. Jesus heals the man covered in leprosy, and sends him to the priest, to witness it.
First Reading: First Epistle of St. John 5:5-13
Beloved: Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is the one who came through water and Blood, Jesus Christ, not by water alone, but by water and Blood.
The Spirit is the one who testifies,
and the Spirit is truth.
So there are three who testify,
the Spirit, the water, and the Blood,
and the three are of one accord.
If we accept human testimony,
the testimony of God is surely greater.
Now the testimony of God is this,
that he has testified on behalf of his Son.
Whoever believes in the Son of God
has this testimony within himself.
Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar
by not believing the testimony God has given about his Son.
And this is the testimony:
God gave us eternal life,
and this life is in his Son.
Whoever possesses the Son has life;
whoever does not possess the Son of God does not have life.
I write these things to you so that you may know that you have eternal life, you who believe in the name of the Son of God.
Gospel Lk 5:12-16
It happened that there was a man full of leprosy in one of the towns where Jesus was;
and when he saw Jesus, he fell prostrate, pleaded with him, and said,
“Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.”
Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said,
“I do will it. Be made clean.” And the leprosy left him immediately.
Then he ordered him not to tell anyone, but
“Go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing
what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.”
The report about him spread all the more,
and great crowds assembled to listen to him
and to be cured of their ailments,
but he would withdraw to deserted places to pray.
The Implications of Touching the Leper
It is worth dwelling on some details in today’s Gospel story. Some of the following is drawn from Jeremy Myers in the Grace Commentary on Luke.
After calling fishermen to follow him, Jesus begins to show them what it means to be fishers of men. The people he set out to “catch” or engage with his message were not the rich and the influential, but primarily the poor and the neglected. Tax collectors, prostitutes, Gentiles, and thieves were drawn to Jesus, for they experienced him as encouraging their dignity and not condemning them. In today’s story, Jesus reaches out one of the most rejected groups of all—people suffering from the awful disease of leprosy. This account is meant to show us how the mission of Jesus was carried out. He wanted to do exactly what he had said in the Synagogue in Nazareth, to heal, mend, restore, and set free.
Luke sets the story “when Jesus was in a certain town” not specifying exactly where, but presumably a town of Galilee. In this town, he meets someone who should not be there, for a man who was full of leprosy should have stayed far away from other people. Leprosy is a dreadful disease, that attacks the body’s nervous system so that the leper eventually loses the ability to feel. The infected parts of the body go numb and eventually lose their sensitivity. What kills a person with leprosy is the damage done to the body as a result of it not being able to feel pain. To avoid infecting others, lepers had to wear torn clothing, live outside the town, and cry “Unclean! Unclean!” if approached by people (Lev 13:45). Lepers were “untouchables” in every sense of the word, despised, forsaken, judged and condemned.
This man, full of leprosy, probably had not had much human contact for many years. When he came into the town, which was quite shocking, the crowds would have parted before him like the Red Sea when Moses led his people through. Maybe he came there searching for Jesus, and when he saw him he fell down, with the touching request, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” How did he recognize Jesus? Perhaps, as the crowds gave way before the leper, Jesus did not move out of the way, but let the diseased man come right up to him. However it happened, the man knelt before Jesus and begged for cleansing. His request never doubted the ability of Jesus to heal. The leper believed Jesus could heal him, if only he was willing. His request is similar to that of Naaman who asked the prophet Elijah to cleanse him of his leprosy.
Before replying to the man, Jesus put out his hand and touched him. Such an action would have shocked both the leper and the disciples, for rabbis and priests in particular would be most careful to avoid lepers, so as not to become ceremonially unclean. Though touching the leper made him ceremonially unclean, such an action was necessary for Jesus to show tenderness, acceptance, and compassion to a man who had not received such love in a long time. This kind of risk-taking shows what is needed to be a fisher of men.