Speaking to the Soul: I Do Choose

Week of 1 Lent, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:
Psalms 119:49-72 (morning) // 49, [53] (evening)

Genesis 37:25-36

1 Corinthians 2:1-13

Mark 1:29-45

On the one hand, today’s passage from the gospel resembles many other miraculous cures: a leper comes to Jesus and begs for healing, and at the command of Jesus (“Be made clean!”) the leprosy disappears. But on the other hand, what stands out to me from this story of healing and cleansing is not so much Jesus’s miraculous powers, but Jesus’s compassionate touch.

The “leper” in today’s gospel may have suffered more from social exclusion than from a clear medical condition. It is famously difficult to know what ancient authors really meant by “leprosy”. While today “leprosy” usually refers to a specific disease, in premodern times the condition included a range of symptoms and sicknesses. The historian R. I. Moore has pointed out that the subjective medieval criteria for diagnosing leprosy included things like being short-tempered, or butting into conversations. Thus, people could be diagnosed, segregated, and persecuted as “lepers” simply for not following social conventions.

The leper in today’s gospel approached Jesus from the margins of his community and said, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” The gospel tells us that Jesus was moved with pity, stretched out his hand, touched the man and said, “I do choose. Be made clean!” The compassion and physical touch of Jesus must have been deeply healing, humanizing, and cleansing in and of themselves for the leper who had been so thoroughly excluded from community and contact.

Jesus considers the leper worthy of compassion and worthy of touch. And Jesus tells the leper to show himself, clean and worthy, to the priest. How does the touch of Jesus heal and humanize us? And to whom should we reveal ourselves to be clean and worthy? When given the chance to make something clean and whole, Jesus says, “I do choose.”

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and assists with education, young adult ministry, and campus ministry at St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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