.- Jesus Christâs 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 âconsidered at that time the most serious, enough to render a person âimpureâ and to exclude them from the society,â the Pope explained to pilgrims in St. Peterâs Square.
There was even special legislation that reserved to Jewish priests âthe task of declaring the person leprous, that is impure,â 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 ââIf you will, you can make me clean,'â according Markâs account of the event.
Contrary to the legal bans, noted the Pope, âJesus 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.â He responds to the manâs plea by telling him âI will it, be cleansed.â
âIn that gesture and those words of Christ is the whole history of salvation,â stated the Pope, âthere is embodied the will of God to heal us, to cleanse us from evil that disfigures and that disrupts our relationships.â
This contact between the hand of Jesus and the leper âknocks down every barrier between God and human impurities, between the Sacred and its opposite.â The actions of Jesus do not deny the reality of âevil and its negative force,â but shows that âthe love of God is stronger than any evil, even of the most contagious and horrible.â In doing so, âJesus took upon himself our infirmities, became the âleperâ because we were purified.â
The Pope recalled the words of the 13th-century saint, Francis of Assisi, who spoke about lepers and ministered to them.
âWhen I lived in sin, it was very painful to me to see lepers,â wrote St. Francis, âbut God himself led me into their midst, and I remained there a little while.â By the time he left, âthat which had seemed to me bitter had become sweet and easy.â
The Pope said that in learning to literally embrace lepers, St. Francis had been healed of his âleprosy,â namely his pride. That breakthrough âconverted him to the love of God.â
âThis is the victory of Christ, which is our deep healing and our resurrection to new life!â 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 millerâs daughter, Bernadette Soubirous.
âTo St. Bernadette, Our Lady gave a timeless message: the call to prayer and penance,â said the Pope.
âThrough 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!â