sabato 10 febbraio 2018

«Si vis, potes»

On the day spent in Capernaum, Jesus had already performed some miracles: he had freed a demoniac in the synagogue; then he had cured Simon’s mother-in-law; and finally he had healed many who were sick and driven out many demons after sunset. If you remember, on the following day he had left Capernaum to preach in the nearby villages. It is precisely outside Capernaum that Jesus works another miracle, this time in favor of a leper.

When in the Bible leprosy is mentioned, it does not refer just to the disease we nowadays call by this term. The word “leprosy” in the Bible is applied to a variety of skin infections. As it was an infectious disease and there was no remedy for it, the only defense for the community was to keep lepers at a distance. We have heard in the first reading what the law provided, “He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.”

Since the origin of the disease was not known, leprosy was considered a divine punishment and rendered the person suffering from it impure. Leviticus ordered lepers to cry out, “Unclean, unclean!” to invite people to draw away. It was the priest that had to check if one was ill with leprosy and declare him unclean. Only God was able to cure of leprosy. If a leper recovered, he had to present himself to the priest and offer some sacrifices; then the priest declared him clean, thus reinstating him into the community.

The leper of the gospel makes an act of faith in Jesus, “If you wish, you can (si vis, potes) make me clean.” He believes that Jesus can heal him. It depends only on his will, “If you wish.” Maybe this is the first act of faith we find in the gospel: this man recognizes Jesus’ power, which is a divine power, since only God can heal of leprosy. Jesus is moved at the faith of the man. How could he deny his intervention? So, he breaks the law, which ordered not to touch anything impure, stretches out his hand, touches him and says to him, “I will, be clean.” And leprosy immediately disappears. Jesus’ gesture and words are the sign of his divine power. Once again, with his miracle, Jesus shows that the kingdom of God has come.

If Jesus breaks the law to heal the leper, soon afterwards he orders him to observe the law and go to the priest and offer the prescribed sacrifices. It would seem that, according to Jesus, the fulfillment of the law is very urgent. The gospel points out that “he dismissed him at once.” But apparently the man did not have the same opinion; for him, there was something much more important and urgent than going to the priest. We do not know if he actually went to him; maybe he did it later. Anyway, after leaving Jesus, he “went away and began to publicize the whole matter,” even though Jesus had ordered him to tell no one anything. Jesus had his reasons for giving that order; but, according to the cured leper, there was no reason for keeping that miracle hidden: everyone should know that Jesus had healed him of leprosy. In doing so, he becomes an apostle, who spreads the wonders of God shown through Jesus Christ.

The responsorial psalm reminds us that there is a disease more serious than leprosy; it affects each of us—sin. It has the same effects as leprosy: it makes us impure and excludes us from the community. It can be healed only by God, through Jesus Christ. In order for us to be cured of sin, we have to approach Jesus with the same faith as the leper, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Jesus has the power and the will to heal us. But, at the same time, he orders us to go to the priest, to acknowledge our sin and be declared healed. Faith and obedience are the remedies for sin at our disposal. Let us try to have recourse to them especially during this upcoming Lent.