Do You Have the Cooties?
By Dennis S. Hankins
And a leper came to him begging him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” (Mark 1:40)
I’m going to assume I have your attention with my title for this Reflection! Does it bring back any of your childhood memories of antics and sometimes bad manners around someone you feared had the coooootttttttiesssssss! I thought so. Me too. Branding someone with that label ostracized those kids we thought were below us. Was it ever funny? Nope! Did it hurt someone probably starving for a little friendship and for a turn up at bat? Yep! Do you need to go to confession? Wait a moment while I go look in the mirror.
II’m back. I saw myself. I’m taking that person in the mirror to confession.
Cooties is a term referring to lice, fleas, and other kinds of parasites. It is also used to describe persons who are different or disabled or burdened with some kind of quirk real or imagined. It’s applied also to people with a lesser income or sometimes to someone who is employed, let’s say, cleaning out septic tanks, for example.
“Where does your dad work?” a kid asks the new kid at school. Proudly the kid answers, “My dad is a pig farmer!” not expecting the ridicule and finger pointing and accusation that she stinks. Guess who is lonely on the playground.
These outcasts are excluded from cliques at school or in the office and sometimes the cliques that can occur at church. Such persons are not much better off than the leper in today’s gospel when it comes to acceptance and the virtuous etiquette of kindness and forbearance and bearing one another’s burdens.
As long as a leper was unclean, he was obligated to warn others that he was unclean. “Unclean! Unclean!” a leper would announce to anyone coming near him. A leper lived isolated from the community and was unable to participate in its life. The unnamed leper today comes to Jesus, not declaring his condition, but begging to be made clean again!
There was a procedure for reentry into the life of the community for anyone declared unclean by the priest. If a person no longer had the sore of leprosy, he would present himself to the priest for inspection. Providing the man no longer had any evidence of the blotch, the priest would pronounce him clean and allow him back into the camp.
In modern times it is difficult to get our head around all of this. But in Old Testament times, great concern is raised in the first reading for important reasons. First, there is the issue concerning the spread of disease, so isolation for something that might clear up in a few days is warranted. Then there was the ongoing concern if a skin disease was a permanent prognosis such as leprosy. This is why the brief but exhilarating Gospel of the leper crying out to Jesus is important. No one lives with less of everything than the leper in this reading. And he’s going for broke. He has heard of Jesus and in him there is one last flicker of hope!
I’m struck by the intensity demonstrated by the leper in the Gospel. Jesus is moved by his request. It is abrupt and filled with great expectation. But Jesus is neither startled nor put off. Rather he is moved with pity. He who had no permanent address nor a pillow to lay his head on understands deeply this man’s need. The leper is living away from his family and friends. He has no where to lay his head down at night. His only hope for restoration to his rightful place is to be healed. And it is this he requests of our Lord. So begging, kneeling, and pleading, he says to Jesus, “If you will, you can make me clean.” The desperation in his voice is real and the faith in his heart is enough to move mountains.
Jesus responds to the cries of our heart. Like the leper, we who have blotches on our hearts that only he can see, should cry out as the leper. We should come to the Lord with great expectation. We can ask him to heal our hearts and to fill us with that love that is from above. The Lord hears our voice. And when words no longer pass our lips, he hears the desperate pleas from the secret places of our soul. His response to this leper could not be more dramatic. Moved with a desire to touch this begging leper, Jesus stretches out his hand and says, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.
A person touching a leper became unclean himself. No one would touch this leper. It was too risky. The stakes were too high. But for Jesus this is not a risk; it is not a gamble. It is the mystery of love, for to the pure all things are pure.
It is this mystery of love that Jesus shows the leper that we are to grasp today. Paul ministered for the benefit of others, that they might be saved. Like Jesus, Paul sought to make real to others that love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Such love is patient and kind. It is never rude, arrogant, nor boastful.
My friend, we want to imitate Jesus as Paul did. How much richer our lives and families and communities can be if we imitate Jesus. But our agendas keep us at arms length with him and with each other and we miss the fulness of the kingdom of life and love. Jesus wants much more for us. He is willing to make us clean and free in the great Spirit of his love!
As we come to this Table we pray, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” Amen.