Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46;
1 Cor. 10:31-11:1;
It is interesting that when today’s readings talk about leprosy, they use the terms clean, cleansing, unclean. We can easily understand that leprosy is symbolic of sin – which truly makes us unclean and sets us apart. This is the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday. The emphasis on cleansing from sin is an appropriate lead-in to the penitential season of Lent.
The first reading describes leprosy and what needs to be done if it is discovered. It had to be shown to the priest for a diagnosis and judgment. (It seems similar to going to Confession for sin.) The term “leprosy,” as used in the Scriptures, may designate a wide variety of skin infections. In all cases, however, it appears that the victim was isolated for a period of time until it was determined that he was “clean.”
Psalm 32, the Responsorial, is one of the Seven Penitential Psalms. It has to do with repentance and forgiveness of sin. “I said, ‘I confess my faults to the Lord,’ and you took away the guilt of my sin.” This further reinforces that leprosy is a symbol for sin.
Jesus, “moved with pity,” cleanses a leper and orders him to show himself to the priest, as prescribed by Leviticus. It seems that Jesus wanted the priest to know how the cleansing occurred, but no one else. Of course, it didn’t turn out that way! “The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad.” Jesus’ reputation made it impossible for him to travel freely into a town. He had to remain in deserted places. Even there, crowds “from everywhere” kept seeking him out.
St. Paul said that he became weak for the sake of the weak. He wants to try to reach everyone with the gospel. The context of this section in First Corinthians has to do with food offered to idols. Paul himself knows that the idols are not really gods and have no significance, but he wants to avoid giving offense or scandal out of charity. He states that he is “not seeking my own benefit but that of the many, that they may be saved.”
St. Paul gives us two guiding principles for our own conduct, especially as we approach the beginning of Lent. First, “do everything for the glory of God” and second, “avoid giving offense,” or think of others before yourself.
CLEANSE MY HEART, OH GOD
We are all infected with leprosy of the spirit – sin! “In sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). Today’s liturgy, however, sounds a note of hope. If Jesus is “moved with pity” and so willing to cleanse a leper, how much more will he hear the cry of a repentant sinner. As the song says, “Change my heart, O God, make it ever true; change my heart, O God, may I be like you.”