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The Everyday Prayer

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Icon of the Holy Face
Church of Sant'Egidio, Rome


The Gospel passage opens with a dry and absolutely unique notation for that time: “A leper came to Jesus.” It was really strange that a leper would dare to approach anyone, for all of them were obliged to stay away from people. The book of Leviticus was categorical: “The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be dishevelled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp” (13:45-46). The exclusion from living with others made this terrible disease even worse than what already appeared. The rabbis came to regard lepers as dead to life and believed their healing was more unlikely than the very resurrection. That is why it seems strange that a leper dared to approach Jesus, overcoming an abysmal distance that was guaranteed also by law. But to whom else could the leper go? Protected by legal provisions as well as fear of contagion, all stayed far away from leprosy patients. The only one who did not behave so was Jesus. Lepers had understood this and came to him.
How many people today, near or far from us, are affected by leprosy! There are not so many actually affected by the disease that is in fact easily treatable today, as are those who see their lives irrevocably marked by illness and marginality. Still today we are many, too many, to keep them away from us for fear of contagion, or, as some say, not to be saddened at their sight. Contrary to what usually happened at the time of Jesus, as soon as the lepers came to know that he was going to pass, overcame the barriers of fear and mistrust and flocked to him. The young prophet of Nazareth created a new climate everywhere around him, an atmosphere full of compassion and mercy, which attracted the sick, sinners, the poor. When today’s disciples, Christian communities anywhere in the world, cannot create a new atmosphere and when they are not Gospel attractive, they should ask themselves why not.
That leper, finally and with who knows how much effort, came close to Jesus and fell at his feet. He did not use many words, nor did he begin to explain his illness; he said simply, but with faith: “If you choose, you can make me clean.” The leper did not doubt that Jesus could heal him; and yet, he did not know whether he wanted to. After all, what could a poor leper know about the will of the young prophet? One thing is certain in this Gospel passage: the desperation of the leper, in front of that good prophet, turned into faith. And Jesus, the compassionate one, could not but listen to him; not afraid of contagion, he stretched out his hand and touched him. And he communicated to him the energy of life. That leper found himself revived, as a wilted plant that suddenly blooms.
The Gospel scene encourages all of us to meet and to hear, to touch and to feel the great need of salvation that millions of today’s “lepers” have. With his answer, “I do choose. Be made clean,” Jesus shows us what his will is regarding any kind of leprosy and evil. Yes, God's will is very clear: to fight against all kinds of evil, against all kinds of discrimination, of distance, of exclusion. And we are really far from the rather widespread belief that God decides to deploy evil in people according to their sin. Nothing is more alien to the Gospel. Yet it is a deeply rooted belief even among Christians.
It is not easy to understand Jesus’ order to the leper: “See that you say nothing to anyone...” It is a command that seems strange. Certainly it is foreign, if not contrary, to our habits and our “television” culture. The Gospel seems to show that Jesus wants to keep a striking, rich, expressive silence. We could also interpret this line within the context of the so-called “messianic secret,” so dear to the evangelist Mark. However we should underline that Jesus does not seek his glory or the strengthening of his fame. The desire for silence is linked to the delicate secret of a friendship that develops between the Lord and that leper, between the Lord and anyone who trusts him. We could interpret the silence imposed by Jesus about the miracle to mean that it is not simply an apologetic sign of his power, which is also necessary to accept, but primarily a friendly, loving, compassionate response to those who are sick and excluded. It is like saying that the love of God for me, for you, for every human being, comes before anything else.
Perhaps because that leper was touched by this unique and unimaginable love, that he could not be silent. The leper did not obey and divulged the fact to the extent that Jesus could no longer enter the city because of the large number of people who sought him out. Jesus, who did not want to please people but his Father, withdrew to other places. People, however, did not lose sight of him and kept following him.

Liturgy of the Sunday

Calendar of the week
Sunday, 19 November
Liturgy of the Sunday
Monday, 20 November
Prayer for peace
Tuesday, 21 November
Memory of the Mother of the Lord
Wednesday, 22 November
Memory of the Saints and the Prophets
Thursday, 23 November
Memory of the Church
Friday, 24 November
Memory of Jesus crucified
Saturday, 25 November
Sunday Vigil
Sunday, 26 November
Liturgy of the Sunday