Redefining the boundaries

Daily Reading for February 15 • The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

When Jesus chooses to touch the leper he is not just curing him of chronic eczema or psoriasis. Nor is he simply forgiving the man’s sins, although most people who have assumed that the leper’s crawling skin was both the result and the sign of sinfulness. By stretching out his hand and touching the leper, Jesus muddies the boundary separating the clean from the unclean, what is socially acceptable from what is socially anathema.

Such a touch has political as well as therapeutic implications. In effect, it redefines how God acts in the world. Jesus tells the man he is to show himself to the priests, thus starting a process of political and social reintegration that will restore the healed leper to full status in the ritual system that once had cast him out. But Jesus’ touch, as Mark describes it, is more powerful than even Jesus himself had imagined. Instead of going quietly to the priests, the leper spreads the news through all the neighboring towns. It is not a story that can be kept quiet. In the gospel’s larger picture, the leper’s new wholeness is a sign that the entire system that had separated clean from unclean is in jeopardy, about to be blown wide open.

From Sensing God: Reading Scripture With All Our Senses by Roger Ferlo (Cowley Publications, 2002).

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