Sermon on Mark 1: 35-44


Saturday of Souls, March 27, 2021

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

In this morning’s Gospel we heard these words:

Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed.

The encounter with the leper must have taken place as Jesus and His disciples were walking between towns, because lepers were required by the Law of Moses to wear loose garments, have their heads uncovered, wear a mask over their mouths, and live isolated, outside of the towns and villages (see Leviticus 13: 45-46 LXX). According to the text, the leper was the one who sought Jesus. Doubtless the leper communities had also heard the reports that Jesus had been casting out demons in the neighboring towns, but only this one man had the courage to approach Him and ask Him for help. “If you want to, you can cleanse me from this hideous disease” he said. Before answering, Jesus did something first. The Gospel says that He reached out His hand and touched the leper. Only after this did Jesus say, “I DO want to.”  What is the significance of this action?

Let’s recall another miracle. Do you remember the healing of the centurion’s slave in Matthew chapter 8? The centurion discouraged Jesus from coming to his house because the Law of Moses didn’t allow for a devout, observant Jew to enter the house of a Gentile without rendering himself ritually unclean. Jesus, admiring the centurion’s faith, simply healed him from a distance. As the centurion said, “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed” (Matthew 8:8). And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour” (verse 44). In this case, though, Jesus encounters a Jew who is himself ritually unclean. St John Chrysostom explains it like this,

"He did not simply say, 'I will, be cleansed,' but he also 'extended his hand, and touched him'—an act we do well to analyze. If he cleansed him merely by willing it and by speaking it, why did he also add the touch of his hand? For no other reason, it seems to me, than that he might signify by this that He is not under the hand of the law, but the law is in His hands. Hence to the pure in heart, from now on, nothing is impure. … He touched the leper to signify that He heals not as a servant but as Lord. For the leprosy did not defile His hand, but His holy hand cleansed the leprous body.”

The leper, you see, didn’t simply ask to be healed of his illness, but he asked to be made “clean,” as in ritually as well as physically clean. He wanted to re-join society, of course! But more importantly, he wanted to attend the synagogue to hear the word of God; he wanted to be able to go to the Temple in Jerusalem on the feasts, to pray, to worship, and offer his sacrifices. But the Law of Moses made this impossible. When Jesus touched the leper He did NOT become ritually unclean Himself, as the Law dictated, but rather, the leper became clean! In this miracle Jesus reveals Himself to be so much more than an itinerant preacher and exorcist, He reveals Himself as someone far greater than Moses, He reveals Himself as the Son of God, Who by the touch of His finger inscribed the Law in stone on Mount Sinai.  Amen.


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