“I do choose. Be made clean!” Jesus says to the leper who approaches him, looking for healing in today’s Gospel. Yet, what if Jesus had chosen not to make him clean? Every time I read this passage, I wonder: what if he had said no? I almost want to say to the leper: “Don’t say, ‘if you choose’! Don’t give him the option, just tell him: Make me clean!” But, can Jesus really be coerced into doing this or that? Of course not, He is utterly free. Or is he?
In the first reading, we see that leprosy was no laughing matter. The law required that whoever had a leprous eruption or spot needed to be examined by the priest. If he determined it to be leprosy, the person couldn’t just cover up the spot and go about their life. Instead, they were to take every measure to make this known to others: wearing torn clothes, letting their hair be dishevelled, covering their mouth, and – as if all this weren’t enough – loudly declaring themselves unclean to everyone who would hear. All of this so others would know to stay away. The disease completely ostracized the person. They remained outside the camp until the leprosy either ceased or killed them.
In the Gospel, after healing the leper, Jesus instructed him to go to the priest and paid what Moses commanded for his cleansing. Thus, Moses’ law is still in effect in Jesus’ times, and the situation of those with leprosy is, if not the same as when the law was given, perhaps worse. Therefore, by healing the man, Jesus not only saves him from a potentially fatal disease but also restores him to life in society. In more than one way, then, Jesus saves this man’s life.
Now, if this man’s situation is genuinely as desperate as it seems, why doesn’t he directly ask to be healed instead of leaving it up to Jesus’ choosing? I mean, sure, this doesn’t mean Jesus necessarily has to comply. But when you desperately want something, you don’t start by giving the person an option. “If you choose, you can hire me for this amazing job that has always been my dream.” Nobody says that! Of course, the employer is the one to choose, but you ask directly for it.
The situation is even more perplexing when we consider that this man approaches Jesus – God in the flesh – as if giving Him who is absolutely free, incapable of being coerced, a choice.
Yet, it does seem as if the man’s request compels Jesus. The instructions Jesus gives him after healing him certainly make it seem like He is trying to keep a low profile. Moreover, by the end of the Gospel, it seems like Jesus has taken on the man’s leprosy by giving into the man’s request. Albeit for a different reason, now it is Jesus himself who can’t enter the town!
So it does seem that, at least at some level, the man’s request compels Jesus’ hand to heal. The reason is that unlike many of us – who anxiously try to quiet that little doubt that pops up in the back of our mind whenever we ask for a miracle – the man in the Gospel has no doubts. He makes it explicit that he believes in Jesus’ power to save. He is the perfect example of what Jesus will later in the Gospel of Mark say to his disciples: “Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you” (Mk 11:3).
It is faith that compels God’s hand. By giving Jesus a choice to heal him or not, the leper does not make his appeal less persuasive but more since it manifests the force of his faith. And Jesus, whose whole mission and purpose are to save, and who is therefore drawn to our misery and need, is moved by this man’s faith to heal. In this sense, then, there is no question of Jesus saying, “I do not choose”.
This Sunday, let us ask the Lord to strengthen our faith in His mercy and, as we approach the season of Lent, let us cease trying to cover the leprosy of our sins, our shame and guilt, and instead display them before the Lord utterly convinced that in his mercy He will heal us.
Santiago Torres – St. Joseph Seminary, Edmonton, Alberta
Fot. Jackson David/Unsplash.com