Gospel for Today

Dated Feb. 12


Today’s Mass readings might make a dermatologist’s skin crawl.  The first reading from the book of Leviticus in the Old Testament is all about what to do with lepers.  If a man has “a scab or pustule or blotch” then he will be declared unclean “since he is in fact unclean” and must dwell apart from the rest (Lv. 13:1-2, 44-46).
On a surface level, this advice makes since from the point of view of not wanting to spread contagion through a community.  Someone with an infectious disease is kept isolated from the rest of the people, to prevent its spreading.  But just like last Sunday’s readings, the lesson today is not merely about physical ailment, or physical healing.
We learned last week that while God is concerned with healing our bodies, what is most important is the healing of our souls.  Human beings are an interesting bunch.  We alone of all creation possess both a physical body, like the animals, as well as an immaterial and immortal soul, like the angels.  We have our feet in both worlds.  And while our physical bodies will eventually die and decay away, our souls live on forever.  And so it is of primary importance that our souls are taken care of.
Disease in the soul is called sin.  And that is the true leprosy that we need to be concerned with.  When we sin, when we commit immoral acts, we are putting scabs, pustules and blotches on our souls.  And the Church, in fairness, may tell us that we are unclean.  When the Church tells us something is gravely sinful, such as contraception, or abortion, or adultery, theft or lying, it is not doing so to be mean-spirited or contrary.  Far from it.  It calls those things unclean because they are “in fact unclean” (like the leper in the first reading).  Put simply, the Church calls it like it is.
But the Church has a solution for those with unclean souls, other than simply casting them out.  In today’s Gospel reading from Mark we find a leper approaching Jesus and saying, “If you wish, you can make me clean.”  And Jesus does.  He says, “I do will it.  Be made clean.”  The Gospel tells us than that the leper “was made clean” (Mk. 1:40-45).  
Thus it is for sinners.  We are made clean through the mercy of Jesus Christ.  This is of vital importance.  Our sins are not simply covered up, like bandages placed over the scabs and pustules of the leper.  Our sins are not simply hidden.  No, we are made clean, just as the leper was made clean.  We are truly healed when we come to God seeking forgiveness, most especially in the sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession).
Martin Luther taught that the forgiven sinner is like a “snow covered dung hill,” made pure and white by the sacrifice of Christ, but still a pile of excrement at the core.  The Catholic Church has always disagreed with this way of thinking.  It is not enough to simply have our sins covered up.  We need to be made clean, to be made holy.  And that is what Christ does for us.  Like the leper in today’s Gospel, He does will it.  He makes us clean.