In the Old Testament, leprosy is depicted as punishment for disobedience of God’s commands (see Numbers 12:12-15; 2 Kings 5:27; 15:5).
Considered “unclean” — unfit to worship or live with the Israelites, lepers are considered “stillborn,” the living dead (see Numbers 12:12). Indeed, the requirements imposed on lepers in today’s First Reading — rent garments, shaven head, covered beard — are signs of death, penance and mourning (see Leviticus 10:6; Ezekiel 24:17).
So there’s more to the story in today’s Gospel than a miraculous healing.
When Elisha, invoking God’s name, healed the leper, Naaman, it proved there was a prophet in Israel (see 2 Kings 5:8).
Today’s healing reveals Jesus as far more than a great prophet — he is God visiting his people (see Luke 7:16).
Only God can cure leprosy and cleanse from sin (see 2 Kings 5:7); and only God has the power to bring about what he wills (see Isaiah 55:11; Wisdom 12:18).
The Gospel scene has an almost sacramental quality about it. Jesus stretches out his hand — as God, by his outstretched arm, performed mighty deeds to save the Israelites (see Exodus 14:6; Acts 4:30). His ritual sign is accompanied by a divine word (“Be made clean”). And, like God’s word in creation (“Let there be”), Jesus’ word “does” what he commands (see Psalm 33:9).
The same thing happens when we show ourselves to the priest in the sacrament of penance. On our knees like the leper, we confess our sins to the Lord, as we sing in today’s Psalm.
And through the outstretched arm and divine word spoken by his priest, the Lord takes away the guilt of our sin.
Like the leper we should rejoice in the Lord and spread the good news of his mercy.
We should testify to our healing by living changed lives. As Paul says in today’s Epistle, we should do even the littlest things for the glory of God and that others may be saved.
Scott Hahn is founder of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, stpaulcenter.com.
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