15 February 2009

HE CONTINUES TAUNTING JESUS

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 1:40-45

A leper approached Jesus and said, “If You want to, You can cure me.” What exactly did the leper mean? Depending on the tone of his voice, there are, at least, four possible meanings of what the leper said to Jesus.

First, the leper was expressing faith in the healing power of Jesus. He wanted Jesus to know that he believes in Him. This is the safest interpretation.

Second, the leper was encouraging Jesus to use His healing power. “If You want to, You can cure me” was another way of saying “Go ahead, Jesus, You can do it. You can cure me. Cure me!” This kind of interpretation may sound rather unlikely, but, just the same, it is among the possibilities.

Third, the leper was allowing Jesus to heal him. He was welcoming Jesus into the privacy of his leper’s “world”, a “world” where no one wants to enter as either a dweller or a guest. He was granting Jesus the privilege to touch him in his vulnerability. This interpretation gives importance to the role that the leper played in his healing. After all, healing happens only when the sick allows the healer to heal him.

Fourth, the leper was taunting Jesus. This is the most disturbing possible interpretation. Listening more keenly to how, and not only to what, the leper told Jesus, one cannot miss even at least a slight tone of sarcasm in the leper’s voice. Notice that the “if” was placed before the “want”: If You want…. While the leper believed in the healing power, the leper seemed to be doubting the goodness of the Healer Himself. The leper’s statement sounds like a question rather than a declaration: “If You want to, You can cure me. But do You want to?” It gives the impression that the leper was not sure if Jesus really wanted to heal him at all. The painful years of being a religious and social outcast taught the leper the lesson that no one would ever bother about him, that no one would ever care enough about him, that no one would ever give a damn helping him and alleviating him from his misery: Was Jesus a different guy after all? Would He give a damn about me and my misery? Would He break the Law that prohibits any good from touching the leprous? Would He do it just to free one poor soul like me? Truly, cynicism can be a disease more difficult to heal than leprosy.

We do not doubt the healing power of Jesus. And, more than His power, we never doubt His compassionate love for all, most especially, the least, the last, and the lost. We believe that Jesus can. We are certain that Jesus cares. But the leprous man in the gospel today seems to be not so sure about Jesus – if not about what He can, perhaps, what He cares about. And Jesus was not happy about that. The gospel says that when the leprous man told Jesus, “If You want to, You can cure me”, Jesus felt sorry for him. But the original text, which is written in Greek, says that Jesus became fuming mad. And stretching out His hand, touching the leper, He said, “Of course, I want to. Be cured!” Thereupon, the leprosy left the man immediately.

Jesus did not only feel sorry for the leper; the original text says that He became indignant. Indignant – quite a strong word, expressing a strong emotion. However, the original text is quite unclear as to whom Jesus got angry with. Was He fuming mad at the leper himself or was He indignant with what has become of the leper – cynical about the goodness of his fellow human being? And what made the leper a cynic soul? The inhumanity of man to his fellowman. Worse, such inhumanity was sanctified by a religion that considered the leprous practically dead even while still living. Worst, the same religion judged as unclean not only the lepers themselves but also anyone who touched them. Thus, Jesus had every reason to fume in righteous anger.

The leper in the gospel today was cured. But the cynicism that many have learned from the way they have been treated by their fellow human being has yet to be healed. Until such healing happens, a leper continues taunting Jesus.

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