Jesus cleanses us. In this Sunday's gospel reading from Mark, a man with leprosy, a ritually unclean man, approached Jesus, knelt before him, and begged him, "If you will it, you can make me clean" (1:40). This request has more profound layers of meaning. In the Jewish religion, being found with blemished skin is linked to punishment for disobedience. The consequence of disobedience, of sin, is exclusion from communal ritual worship and separation from family and friends. It is required by law for the unclean person to indicate their unclean inner state outwardly by wearing a rent garment, shaved head, and a bell (signs of mourning and penance) to warn people of their presence because coming into physical contact with them will make others unclean as well. They were, more or less, the living dead. That is the state of anyone in a state of sin.
What was Jesus' response to the prayer of faith made by the leper? Mercy. "Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him and said 'I will it; be made clean" (1: 41). Jesus took upon himself the uncleanness of the man, and Jesus healed him through his touch and words. Jesus made him ritually fit for worship again by cleansing him of the stain of sin. By this act of touching and cleansing, Jesus showed us that he is a divine person, more than a prophet like Elisha, who healed the leprosy of Naaman. What Jesus did and how he did it brings to mind God's creative word in the creation story- "Let there be." Jesus has the power to will, and he "wills" the cleansing of this man from within of his sin as well as his exterior ugly sight. Only God can do this- the power to cleanse the stain of sin on the soul.
This divine cleansing occurs in the Sacrament of Penance or Confession. The penitent approaches the priest with a contrite heart for sins committed and, kneeling on the kneeler, asks Jesus through the priest to cleanse them of leprosy of sin. The priest stretches his hand over the penitent and pronounces words of absolution, which cleanses the soul of all confessed sins. Every penitent sinner is like the man with leprosy who comes to Jesus to beg for healing. It is the responsibility and free will of the penitent to go to Jesus. It is clear that Jesus is full of mercy and compassion for a repentant sinner who comes to him to beg for healing and would generously cleanse the one who begs for his healing grace. Jesus will never deny a blessing of healing for any repentant sinner who seeks to obey God's will. Jesus never turns away any form of a sinner. All types of sinners are welcome to approach Jesus for his gracious mercy.
What stops me from asking Jesus for his healing and cleansing? How am I taking responsibility for any devious acts against God's commandments of which I am a free agent? What sinful habits do I need to bring to Jesus, saying, "You can make me clean? The season of Lent kicks off on Wednesday. It is a long forty days of self-examination to identify any leprosy of the soul that separates us from union with Jesus and worthy participation in His Body and Blood, and going to him in confession to beg for his cleansing. He wills to cleanse us of sin, but we must repent and ask for his healing grace.
This is just a fraternal reminder that Lent starts this Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is a day of universal fasting and abstinence in the Church. We have three masses with the imposition of ashes; please take a look at the bulletin for details. Remember to fast, abstain from meat, and pray intensely on Wednesday. May God see signs of our repentance and cleanse us of all sins.
On this Sunday, World Day of the Sick and World Day of Marriage, I impose Jesus' healing grace on all the sick and His divine love on all married couples, respectively, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Fr. Alayode Bernard Oniwe, OP