First Reading ( Lev 13:1-2, 44-46 ). To be a leper in the world of ancient Israel and early Judaism was to have some sort of skin disease that excluded a person from community and in particular from public worship.
There were very strict regulations regarding such lepers. Their condition required ritual cleansing by a priest and an offering that cost money.
The reading from Leviticus demonstrates that lepers suffered not only from sickness but even more significantly from social and communal exclusion. That seems horrifying from our perspective and it was.
Second Reading ( 1 Cor 10:31-11:1, 22-23 ).
Again and again, Paul begs the wealthy members of the Corinthian community to be attentive to the sensitivities and needs of others. The community probably numbered about 50 and it necessarily fell to the wealthy to host the community gatherings. Paul, who is writing to them from Ephesus, has been informed that the behaviour of some members at these Eucharistic gatherings is reprehensible.
T he conventional mores with regard to meals permitted different kinds of food for people of differing status. This is not the way of the gospel. They are to eat at home before they come together for the ritual meal. Under no circumstances are the poor to be humiliated. They have seen how Paul behaves and he offers himself as the standard for their behaviour.
Gospel Reading (Mark 1:40-45). In this little story, a man with leprosy approaches Jesus and begs for healing. Jesus is ‘moved with compassion’, literally ‘moved in his gut, or in the depths of his being’. In other words, Jesus has a physical reaction in the face of suffering. Some manuscripts have ‘moved with anger’. [A later scribe probably considered that expression too harsh and softened the text].
Jesus wills the cure of the man. He actually reaches out and touches him, and then sends him back to tell the priests ‘as a proof to them’. The verb used for ‘send back’ presupposes that the priests had already been approached without success.
J esus, the Galilean healer, succeeds in mediating the power of the God of Israel and so restores this outcast to life in the community. The widespread report of Jesus’ healing activity incurs the anger of some of the authorities. For our part, as followers of Jesus, we might reflect on the fact that sickness and disability are not only physical phenomena. They also affect people emotionally and socially.
Healing enables people to live again, to return to the life of the community, to do the things they want to do. The combination of a compassionate word and a healing touch can work wonders. That was true in the ancient world. It is equally true in today’s world.