.- Jesus Christ’s healing of the leper in the Gospel of Mark encapsulates the whole history of salvation, said Pope Benedict XVI in his Sunday Angelus address for Feb. 12.
When Jesus met the leper, he came into contact with a form of illness “considered at that time the most serious, enough to render a person ‘impure’ and to exclude them from the society,” the Pope explained to pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square.
There was even special legislation that reserved to Jewish priests “the task of declaring the person leprous, that is impure,” he said. It was the job of the Jewish priests to decide if and when to re-admit the sufferer to society after they had been deemed cured.
It was in this context that a leper came to Jesus beseeching him and telling him “‘If you will, you can make me clean,'” according Mark’s account of the event.
Contrary to the legal bans, noted the Pope, “Jesus does not avoid contact with this man, indeed, he is driven to an intimate participation in his condition, stretches out his hand and touches it.” He responds to the man’s plea by telling him “I will it, be cleansed.”
“In that gesture and those words of Christ is the whole history of salvation,” stated the Pope, “there is embodied the will of God to heal us, to cleanse us from evil that disfigures and that disrupts our relationships.”
This contact between the hand of Jesus and the leper “knocks down every barrier between God and human impurities, between the Sacred and its opposite.” The actions of Jesus do not deny the reality of “evil and its negative force,” but shows that “the love of God is stronger than any evil, even of the most contagious and horrible.” In doing so, “Jesus took upon himself our infirmities, became the ‘leper’ because we were purified.”
The Pope recalled the words of the 13th-century saint, Francis of Assisi, who spoke about lepers and ministered to them.
“When I lived in sin, it was very painful to me to see lepers,” wrote St. Francis, “but God himself led me into their midst, and I remained there a little while.” By the time he left, “that which had seemed to me bitter had become sweet and easy.”
The Pope said that in learning to literally embrace lepers, St. Francis had been healed of his “leprosy,” namely his pride. That breakthrough “converted him to the love of God.”
“This is the victory of Christ, which is our deep healing and our resurrection to new life!” proclaimed Pope Benedict.
Before leading pilgrims in praying the Angelus, the Pope urged those present to direct their prayers towards the Virgin Mary. He noted that yesterday marked the 154th anniversary of her first appearance in the French town of Lourdes to the local miller’s daughter, Bernadette Soubirous.
“To St. Bernadette, Our Lady gave a timeless message: the call to prayer and penance,” said the Pope.
“Through his mother it is always Jesus who comes to us, to deliver us from all sickness of body and soul. Let us allow ourselves to be touched and purified by him, and show mercy towards our brothers!”