What we can learn from the Leper

Editor’s Note: Reflection on the Mass readings for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) – Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46; Psalms 32:1-2, 5, 11; First Corinthians 10:31–11:1; Mark 1:40-45. This series appears each Wednesday.

Photography © by Andy Coan

Many Catholics are confused about suffering.  Some writers extol its surpassing value.  But does that mean that we should look for suffering?  Or, if suffering should come our way, that it would be unspiritual to seek relief from it?

The story of Jesus and the leper in Mark 1:40-45 provides us with a case study on the subject.  In biblical times, “leprosy” encompassed many different skin diseases.  We don’t know what kind of leprosy the man had, exactly.  It could have been Hansen’s disease, which is what we call leprosy today.  In that case, he would not have been in a lot of physical pain, since this disease takes away one’s ability to feel much of anything in many parts of the body.  This, in fact is one of the problems with the disease.  Pain actually is actually designed to be a gift from God–it tells us that there is something wrong so we can attend to the problem before it gets worse.  Without this unpleasant sensation we might be tempted, for example, to ignore an infection or continue to put stress on an overworked muscle that desperately needs a rest.  The consequence can be permanent damage to the organ in question, and this is why lepers are often horribly disfigured, with missing digits and extremities.  This hideous appearance causes the leper further suffering.

But regardless of what kind of leprosy the man had, there is yet another kind of suffering experienced by all lepers in ancient Israel.  Leviticus 13 tells us that, to protect others from infection, lepers had to isolate themselves from the rest of society, living outside city limits, obliged to warn all who approached them that they were “unclean.”

So the leper asked Jesus to rid him of his despicable disease, with all it ugly consequences.  Jesus promptly healed him.  He did this not to prove he was a prophet, the messiah, indeed, the Son of God.  In fact, he gave the man strict orders not to broadcast the news of the miracle.  Jesus healed him, instead, out of compassion.  It was a work of mercy, which is love’s response to suffering.  Notice Jesus did not scold him for wanting to be relieved of the suffering associated with this dreadful disease.  He had the power to free him from it and so he did.

So there are at least two lessons here – it’s OK to seek relief from suffering and, should we encounter it in others, we must do all we can to relieve it.

But there is more.  Jesus took away one source of suffering but imposed another.  The former leper was understandably thrilled at his change of fortune and passionately wanted to tell everyone about it.  Jesus commanded him to restrain his passion and be quiet.  This by the way, was for the good of others – to make it possible for Jesus to move freely through the towns of Galilee preaching the gospel and revealing his identity in his own way and according to his own timetable.

But the leper would not accept the discipline imposed upon him by the Son of God, and the result was that from that point on it was Jesus, instead of the leper, who had to stay out in the wilderness, away from the towns.

We need not go looking for suffering.  It will inevitably find us.  Generally, we should seek relief from many forms of suffering, such as physical illness.  But as long as we find suffering to be our traveling companion, we should bear it with as much joy and faith as possible in the name of the Lord, who suffered for us, joining our suffering to His for the redemption of the world.  This is what St. Paul says – whatever we do, and whatever we have to endure, we must do for the glory of God and the salvation of all (1 Corinthians 10:31-33).


Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118. This article originally appeared in Our Sunday Visitor and is reproduced here by permission of the author.


Please help us in our mission to assist readers to integrate their Catholic faith, family and work. Tell your family and friends about this article using both the Share and the Recommend buttons below and via email. We value your comments and encourage you to leave your thoughts below. Thank you! – The Editors

Print this entry

About the Author

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118.

Raised in Italian/Irish neighborhood in Providence, RI, Marcellino D’Ambrosio never thought about being anything else but Catholic. But like other Catholic teens, his faith was the last place he looked for fulfillment. Following in the footsteps of his parents, both professional performers in their single years, Marcellino set his sights on stardom, playing bass guitar in several popular rock bands by the time he was 16. At that time he encountered a group of Catholics whose Christian life was an exciting adventure, an adventure worth living for. So he laid his bass guitar aside and embarked on a road that led to a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Catholic University of America. His doctoral dissertation, written under the direction of the renowned Jesuit theologian, Avery Cardinal Dulles, focused on one of the theological lights of the Second Vatican Council, Henri Cardinal de Lubac, and his recovery of biblical interpretation of the early Church fathers.

His writing has been published in the international journal Communio, Abingdon’s Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, the Tablet, Catholic Digest, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic News Service’s syndicated column "Faith Alive." His popular book, Exploring the Catholic Church and video course by the same name (known as Touching Jesus through the Church in the USA) have been used in hundreds of parishes all throughout the English speaking world. The Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions about the Passion of the Christ, of which he is co-author and co-editor, may prove to be the fastest-selling Catholic book of all time with over a million copies sold in less than three months.

Dr. D’Ambrosio, the father of five and a business owner, brings to his teaching a practical, down-to-earth perspective that makes his words easy to understand and put into practice. Audio and video recordings of his popular teaching are internationally distributed. He often appears on the international Eternal Word Television Network is regularly heard on the nationally syndicated radio show "Catholic Answers Live." Dr. D'Ambrosio has been a guest on Geraldo Rivera, At Large on FoxNews Channel, the Bill O'Reilly radio show and Radio America's news program Dateline: Washington.

In 2001 Dr. D’Ambrosio left his position at the University of Dallas to develop the work of Crossroads Productions, the apostolate of Catholic renewal and evangelization that he co-founded twenty years ago, and to more directly oversee the growth of Wellness Opportunities Group a company dedicated to helping people improve the quality of their lives physically, mentally, and financially. He, his wife Susan, and their five children, reside just outside of San Antonio, TX.

Author Archive Page

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *