1) Opening prayer
guide and protector of your people,
grant us an unfailing respect for your name,
and keep us always in your love.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel Reading - Matthew 8,1-4
After Jesus had come down from the mountain large crowds followed him. Suddenly a man with a virulent skin-disease came up and bowed low in front of him, saying, 'Lord, if you are willing, you can cleanse me.' Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him saying, 'I am willing. Be cleansed.' And his skin-disease was cleansed at once. Then Jesus said to him, 'Mind you tell no one, but go and show yourself to the priest and make the offering prescribed by Moses, as evidence to them.'
•In chapters 5 to 7 we have heard the words of the New Law proclaimed on the Mountain by Jesus. Now, in chapters 8 and 9, Matthew indicates how Jesus put into practice that which he had just taught. In today’s Gospel (Mt 8, 1-4) and of tomorrow (Mt 8, 5-17), we see closely the following episodes which reveal how Jesus practiced the Law: the cure of a leper (Mt 8, 1-4), the cure of the servant of the Roman soldier (Mt 8, 5-13), the cure of Peter’s mother-in law (Mt 8, 14-15) and the cure of numerous sick people (Mt 8, 14-17).
• Matthew 8, 1-2: The leper asks: “Lord, if you are willing you can cleanse me”. A leper comes close to Jesus. He was one who was excluded. Anybody who would touch him would remain unclean! This is why the lepers had to remain far away (Lv 13, 45-46). But that leper had great courage. He transgresses the norms of religion in order to be able to enter into contact with Jesus. Getting close to him he says: If you are willing you can cleanse me! That is: “It is not necessary for you to touch me! It suffices that the Lord wants it and he will be cured”. This phrase reveals two things: 1) the sickness of leprosy which made people unclean; 2) the sickness of solitude to which the person was condemned, separated from society and from religion. It reveals also the great faith of the man in the power of Jesus.
• Matthew 8, 3: Jesus touches him and says: I am willing. Be cleansed. Filled with compassion, Jesus cures two sicknesses. In the first place, in order to cure solitude, loneliness, before saying any word, he touches the leper. It is as if he would say: “For me, you are not excluded. I am not afraid to become unclean by touching you! And I accept you as a brother!” Then he cures the leper saying: I am willing! Be cleansed! The leper, in order to be able to enter in contact with Jesus, had transgressed the norms of the Law. Thus Jesus, in order to help that excluded person and reveal the new face of God, transgresses the norms of his religion and touches the leper.
• Matthew 8, 4: Jesus orders the man to go and show himself to the priest. At that time, a leper in order to be reintegrated into the community needed a certificate of healing confirmed by the priest. It is the same thing today. The sick person gets out of the hospital only if he has a certificate signed by the doctor of the department. Jesus obliges the person to look for that document, in order to be able to live normally. He obliges the authority to recognize that the man had been cured. Jesus not only heals but wants the healed person to be able to live with others. He reintegrates the person in the fraternal life of the community. The Gospel of Mark adds that the man did not present himself to the priest. Instead, “He went away and started freely proclaiming and telling the story everywhere, so that Jesus could no longer go openly into the town, but stayed outside in deserted places (Mk 1, 45). Why could Jesus no longer enter openly into the town? Because he had touched the leper and had become unclean before the religious authority who embodied the law of that time. And now, because of this, Jesus was unclean and had to be away far from everybody. He could no longer enter into the city. But Mark shows that people cared very little for these official norms, because people came to Jesus from all pats! This was totally overthrowing things! The message which Mark gives us is the following: In order to take the Good News of God to the people, we should not be afraid to transgress the religious norms which are contrary to God’s project and which prevent a fraternal spirit and love. Even if this causes some difficulty to the people, as it did to Jesus.
• In Jesus everything is revelation of what he has within himself! He does not only announce the Good News of the Kingdom. He is an example, a living witness of the Kingdom, a revelation of God. In Him appears what happens when a human being allows God to reign, allows God to occupy the centre of his life.
4) Personal questions
• In the name of the Law of God, the lepers were excluded and they could not live with others. In our Church are there norms and customs which are not written and, which up until now, marginalize persons and exclude them from living together with others and from communion. Do you know any such persons? Which is your opinion concerning this?
• Jesus had the courage to touch the leper. Would you have this courage?
5) Concluding Prayer
I will bless Yahweh at all times,
his praise continually on my lips.
I will praise Yahweh from my heart;
let the humble hear and rejoice. (Ps 34,1-2)