In the Biblical world, especially in the Old Testament the prerequisite for entering into God’s covenant, into any form of relationship with God is the purity, the cleanness.
The Gospel of Mark is clear about this when it is said in Chapter7: “For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands ⌊ritually⌋, thus holding fast to the traditions of the elders. And when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions which they have received and hold fast to--for example, the washing of cups and pitchers and bronze kettles and dining couches.”
It is in that context that we can understand the ban imposed on a leper as related in the first reading today: “A person infected with leprosy must wear torn clothing and leave his hair uncombed… he must live outside the camp.” This external aspect of the leper is actually the reflection of the internal disorder.
We see the example of Job: When God allowed Satan to touch him in his flesh and was all covered with sores he went to live on the rubbish tip, a garbage dump far from his own. Underneath is a certain conception of God: illness is a punishment from God.
So when the leper of our Gospel today came to Jesus, he was breaking the rule of exclusion. He who should stay far away from normal people and shout: “unclean” in order to warn people that they may avoid him. Not only had the leper transgressed the rule but Jesus also who even touched him. Hence the lesson of this Sunday:
- Mercy required certain boldness: the courage to go against the social pressure and standard. There are people we don’t like because our society tells us do to so. To welcome those people we need to go against the current. That is why compassion bears the cross; we share in the suffering of others we want to help.
- There are people we naturally don’t like maybe because they have strange behaviors, they are not mature or because of their sexual orientation. In that sense, compassion, mercy is to get beyond our natural feeling in order to let the supernatural in us be manifested. Love is to get beyond oneself.
We pray the Lord to help us develop our capacity of love and to have compassion.