Christ is our hope and our peace Print E-mail
Bishop's Column
Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018 -- 12:00 AM
This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

Dear Friends,

This past weekend we heard the moving story of the man healed by Jesus of leprosy (Mk 1:40-45). Now, it’s a miraculous story of Jesus healing someone from a painful and humiliating disease, and that in its own right is worthy of our consideration.

However, a verse earlier in Mark’s Gospel we can read how Jesus had been going into synagogues, “preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee” (Mk 1:39). Surely all those stories of Jesus driving out demons would be more exciting; why is it that the Gospel writer was inspired to include this particular account?

Lepers are to remove themselves from society

We are told, in part, by our First Reading (Lv 13:1-2, 44-46). In the First Reading we see, under the Law of Moses, what is to happen to those inflicted with leprosy -- they are to be seen by the priest and declared unclean.

From that time on, unless somehow the sores are healed, the one inflicted with leprosy is to remove themselves from society. They must live “outside the camp” and, so that no one else might be made unclean by touching them, they must warn everyone to stay away by calling out “unclean, unclean!”

And remember that these proscriptions under the Mosaic Law are not merely for public health and hygiene. All of it is done, most importantly, to preserve purity for the sake of the temple sacrifice, for the most perfect worship of God.

Leper comes to Jesus

So the leprous man in the Gospel has been cast out in this way, and he comes to Jesus. And what does he ask? He does not ask Jesus, could you please heal me from these painful sores -- take away my physical suffering? He does not ask Jesus, could you let people accept me again, as I am?

No. He says to Jesus, “If you wish, you can make me clean” (Mk 1:40).

The man does not beg Jesus simply to be freed from physical suffering (though we presume he would want that); nor is it the prayer of the man to be accepted back into society in spite of his impurity. It is the fervent hope of the man to be made clean by Jesus, so that he might be worthy of standing once again in the temple, capable once again of having his offerings presented to God.

It is the desire for right relationship with God that drives this poor man. And when encountered with such a desire, Jesus is “moved with pity” and heals him immediately and sends him to the priest in the temple.

And we see this exact type of thing in a series of the stories recounted in Mark’s Gospel. Remember that prior to this episode we see Jesus casting out demons, and just after this comes the story of the paralytic lowered into the house where Jesus was. In that story, you’ll recall, he astounds and shocks the Scribes by first saying to the man “your sins are forgiven,” and only thereafter, “stand and walk.” Right after that story, we see Jesus calling to Levi and to the sinners and tax collectors, to follow Him.

Jesus has come to make clean, to forgive sins, to cast out the demons of this world. He has come to heal us of that which keeps us from His Father. It may be the case that other healing will come in this life. But our hope, just like the hope of the man with leprosy, just like the hope of the paralytic, should be that we might be made clean and allowed to do all we can to prepare for eternal life with God. Our hope must be, not that we are accepted fully in society in this life, but that we might dwell in the presence of God our maker, and be accepted by Him as His beloved child.

Christ is our hope

This week we enter Lent, a time of purification and of preparation. It is not the case that any of us are free from impurities. There are times when each of us deserves to be “cast out.” But it is precisely to us that Jesus has come.

In Christ is our hope, in Christ is our peace. Each of us can come to Him, whatever our impurities and say, beg, plead, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” And we can trust that if we come to Him with that humble, contrite prayer, He will.

So let’s each of us enter into Lent with hearts dedicated to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. And most importantly, let’s approach Lent by approaching Jesus himself with the prayer, “If you wish, you can make me clean.”

The Lord loves us so much that He has left us a means of doing this. It is the Sacrament of Penance -- where we can hear Him reply, through the words of His priests, “I do wish it.”

Thank you for taking the time to read this. Have a truly blessed, peaceful, and joy-filled Lent. Praised be Jesus Christ.