Father Leslie Hoppe, OFM

Feb. 11: Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

End to isolation

Lv 13:1-2, 44-46; Ps 32:1-2, 5, 11; 1 Cor 10:31—11:1; Mk 1:40-45

We are social beings. We need each other. This has been brought home to us during the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19’s physical symptoms were made all the worse by isolation, which was necessary to help stem the spread of the virus.

We chafed under the order to shelter in place. We thought that the public health officials had gone too far. We wanted to go to church, to the supermarket and to the office. We wanted to visit family and friends. We wanted the children back in school. We wanted things to get back to normal.

Isolation and quarantine were the strategies that the people of antiquity employed in dealing with the skin malady that went by the name leprosy in the Bible. The physical symptoms of the disease involved a discoloration of the skin, but its effects went beyond the physical symptoms.

Persons afflicted with leprosy were considered impure, so the book of Leviticus prescribed exile from the community. They were cut off from their families. They were forbidden from participating in the life of the community, including worship.

This separation only increased the suffering of a person afflicted with leprosy. They were deprived of human interaction, which is an essential component of well-being.

The origin of customs surrounding purity and impurity are lost in the mists of antiquity. Anthropologists have their hypotheses, but neither the Bible nor any other ancient text provides a rationale for the exclusion of those considered impure from the life of the community.

In today’s Gospel reading, the man afflicted with leprosy comes to Jesus, believing that he will be healed. Mark comments that Jesus had pity on the man. This comment is exceptional.

Mark does not assert that Jesus had pity on Peter’s mother-in-law, the paralytic, or Jairus’ daughter, although we can be sure that Jesus’ compassion extended to them as well. Still, Mark suggests that more than a disease is involved in Jesus’ encounter with the leper. There is the need to end his isolation.

Jesus responds to the man’s request by extending his hand and touching him, disregarding the Levitical prohibition. The healing begins with a touch.

Then follows the assurance that Jesus will indeed honor the man’s request to be made clean and no longer subject to exclusion from the community, Jesus advises the man to have his healing confirmed by priest as required by the Torah.

This healing, along with that of Peter’s mother-in-law, exemplifies the connection of healing with ministry and preaching. After Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, she “waited on” Jesus and the disciples accompanying him. The Greek word translated as “waited on” is the source of the English word “deacon.”

Although Jesus wanted the leper whom he healed to keep silent, “he publicized the whole matter and spread the report abroad.” Gratitude for God’s mercy and compassion expressed itself in loving service and in the proclamation of the Good News.

Jesus’ command to keep the healing quiet is meant to forestall any misunderstanding of who Jesus was and the significance of what Jesus did. Mark did not want to portray Jesus as just another healer and wonder worker.

As Mark tells the story of this healing, the most significant detail was Jesus’ touching the leper in apparent disregard of the Levitical legislation. Breaking through the barrier that cut the leper off from the community effected a miracle that eclipsed the healing of the physical symptoms of leprosy.

Also, as the story of Jesus’ continues, it becomes clearer that the real miracle that Jesus was to accomplish was the defeat of sin and death through the cross.

One aspect of contemporary life is the isolation and loneliness that too many people experience — the abandoned spouse, the runaway teen, the death row inmate, the unhoused person, the unemployed, the elderly and infirm, the terminally ill, the immigrant and so many others. Too often the experience of loneliness leads to substance abuse in the misguided attempt to find relief. Such relief is only temporary, leading to more intense feelings of isolation.

The church continues the healing ministry of Jesus by extending a hand and a healing touch to those who feel alone. The church must never turn its back on such people.

The church is never more its truest self than when it leads people to experience the touch of a loving God in their lives.


  • scripture