GOSPEL READING: Matthew 8:1-4
1 When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; 2 and behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 3 And he stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4 And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to any one; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to the people.”
Meditation: What might hold us back from approaching the Lord Jesus with expectant faith and confidence that he can change us and make us holy – perhaps fear, pride, and the risk of losing one’s reputation or friends? Jesus did something which was both remarkable and unthinkable at the same time. He approached the unapproachables – he touched the untouchables. Lepers were outcasts of society. Their physical condition was terrible as they slowly lost the use of their limbs and withered away with open sores over their entire bodies. They were not only shunned but regarded as “already dead” even by their relatives. The Jewish law forbade anyone from touching or approaching a leper, lest ritual defilement occur.
Approaching the Lord Jesus with expectant faith
The leper who came to Jesus did something quite remarkable. He approached Jesus confidently and humbly, expecting that Jesus could and would heal him. Normally a leper would be stoned or at least warded off if he tried to come near a rabbi. Jesus not only grants the man his request, but he demonstrates the personal love, compassion, and tenderness of God in his physical touch. The medical knowledge of his day would have regarded such contact as grave risk for incurring infection. Jesus met the man’s misery with compassion and tender kindness. He communicated the love and mercy of God in a sign that spoke more eloquently than words. He touched the man and made him clean – not only physically but spiritually as well.
Some twelve centuries later, a man named Francis (1181-1226 AD) met a leper on the road as he journeyed towards Assisi. A contemporary of Francis wrote, “Though the leper caused him no small disgust and horror, he nonetheless, got off the horse and prepared to kiss the leper. But when the leper put out his hand as though to receive something, he received money along with a kiss” (from the Life of St. Francis by Thomas of Celano). Francis did what seemed humanly impossible because he was filled with the love and compassion of Jesus Christ.
The Holy Spirit inflames our hearts with the fire of Christ’s love that we may reach out to others with compassionate care and kindness, especially to those who have been rejected, mistreated, and left utterly alone. Do you allow the Holy Spirit to fill your heart with the love and compassion of Jesus Christ for others?
May the power of your love, Lord Christ, fiery and sweet as honey, so absorb our hearts as to withdraw them from all that is under heaven. Grant that we may be ready to die for love of your love, as you died for love of our love. (Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi,1181-1226 AD)
1 By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.
2 On the willows there we hung up our lyres.
3 For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!
6 Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!
Daily Quote from the Early Church Fathers: The authority to heal and make clean belongs to Christ, by John Chrysostom (347-407 AD)
“With great fervor before Jesus’ knees, the leper pleaded with him (Mark 1:40) with sincere faith. He discerned who Jesus was. He did not state conditionally, ‘If you request it of God’ or ‘If you pray for me.’ Rather, he said simply, ‘If you will, you can make me clean.’ He did not pray, ‘Lord, cleanse me.’ Rather, he leaves everything to the Lord and makes his own recovery depend entirely on him. Thus he testified that all authority belongs to him. One might ask, ‘What if the leper had been mistaken in this assumption?’ If he had been mistaken, wouldn’t it have been fitting for the Lord to reprove him and set him straight? But did he do this? No. Quite to the contrary, Jesus established and confirmed exactly what he had said.” (excerpt from THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 25.1)
Scripture quotations from Common Bible: Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1973, and Ignatius Edition of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 2006, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Citation references for quotes from the writings of the early church fathers can be found here.
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