I love Jesus and today’s gospel is just one reason why.
When the leper comes to Jesus, he is doing something forbidden as we heard about in our first reading from Leviticus. He was supposed to stay away, keep apart, not infect anyone else and just accept his fate.
Not this guy. Probably frightened and well aware of the consequences if he got caught – like people beating him, screaming at him, berating him and finally driving him back to the margins – he, none-the-less pushed his way to Jesus, threw himself down before him and begged him.
“If you wish, you can make me clean.”
“If you wish.” The leper had no question about whether Jesus could accomplish the feat, only whether Jesus wanted to do so, whether he would choose it as part of the mission for which he had come.
What came to me so strong in prayer with this gospel, was the leper’s surrender to the will of Jesus. “If you wish. Not my will, but yours. I’m totally dependent on you. I give it all to you, Jesus.”
It is only after this surrender, this “Thy will be done,” stance, that he makes his request, “You can make me clean.”
I usually get it backwards. I’m usually asking and asking, over and over again, almost demanding that my petitions, my begging, my agenda be put first and then, “Oh, yeah, by the way, ‘Thy will, not mine, be done.’”
I get it backwards. I need to begin with the surrender, with trusting, with deeply believing that whatever God wants, whatever is God’s will, is the very best for me whether I realize it or not.
It’s not me, my and I. It has to be, “If you wish.” This is the only way we’ll ever find true peace and discover real hope.
“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” The leper surrenders and Jesus brings about with touch and word what the kingdom of God is all about – healing, freedom, communion and proclamation.
According to Mark, the leper’s request stirred Jesus to his depths. Even before he could speak, his hand was reaching out, touching the man’s spurned and suffering body, transforming it with tenderness.
Then, pronouncing the words that explained his gesture and made his will effective, Jesus said, “I do will it. Be made clean.”
“Be made clean. Be free. Be whole. Be part of the community once more for this is the time of fulfillment, the kingdom of God is at hand.”
What about you and I? Are we willing to come to Jesus this Lent? Are we willing to admit our weaknesses, our sin, our leprosy in whatever form it takes in our lives?
You know, the hidden judgementalism, jealousies, gossiping, blaming, yelling, anger, addictions, laziness and selfishness in all its blatant and subtle forms?
Are we willing to come to Jesus this Ash Wednesday, to humbly surrender to him, to beg him for healing and then allow him to touch us with ashes for our Lenten journey?
Christ can only touch and heal what we bring before him. If we don’t bring our genuine self, we well never truly encounter Christ. If we come before him with a willingness to be nothing other than our most honest selves and to expose our deepest needs, then he can touch and heal and set us free.
So come to Mass this Ash Wednesday. Bring others with you – family, friends and co-workers. Do not be afraid to invite them to encounter the healing touch of Jesus, to be marked with his cross and be set free.