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Saturday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time. The reading is from Gospel of Matthew 8:1-4.

Christ cleansing a leper by Jean-Marie Melchior Doze, 1864.


The Cleansing of a Leper – Matthew 8:1-4

When Jesus came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him.

And then a leper approached, did him homage, and said, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.”

He stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I will do it. Be made clean.” His leprosy was cleansed immediately.

Then Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one, but go show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.

Introduction to Chapters 8 and 9 of Matthew

This reading is the beginning of the narrative section of the second book of the gospel. This section is composed of nine miracle stories, most of which are found in the gospel of Mark. In these narratives, Matthew does not follow the Marcan order and he has abbreviated the stories radically.

These miracle stories are arranged in three groups of three. Each group is followed by a section composed principally of sayings of Jesus about discipleship.

  • Jesus went around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness. (Matthew 9:35)

is an almost verbatim repetition of

  • He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people. (Matthew 4:23)

Both verses speak of teaching, proclaiming, and curing by Jesus. The teaching and preaching form the content of chapters 5 to 7 of Matthew; the healing, that of chapters 8–9 of Matthew.

Hence, some scholars say of chapters 5 to 7 of Matthew as a portrayal of Jesus as “Messiah of the Word” and chapters 8–9 of Matthew as a portrayal of Jesus as “Messiah of the Deed.”

There is also a strong emphasis on discipleship in Matthew 8–9; these chapters have not only christological but ecclesiological import.

Leper and Leprosy

The term Leper traditionally translated as “leper”and “leprosy” covered a wide variety of skin disorders like psoriasis, eczema, and seborrhea, but probably not Hansen’s disease (modern “leprosy”). There is no clear evidence of existence Hansen’s disease in biblical times. There are only two instances in the Old Testament in which God is shown to have cured a leper:

1. Miriam’s Punishment (Numbers 12:10–15)
2. Elisha Cures Naaman’s Leprosy (2 Kings 5:1–14)

Chapters 13 and 14 of Leviticus deal with scaly or fungal infections (Hebrew ṣāra‘at).

The older translation as “leprosy” is misleading because ṣāra‘at refers to not just one but several chronic and enduring skin diseases in human beings. Modern leprosy or Hansen’s disease is probably not included among the conditions described in these two chapters.

Also the term ṣāra‘at refers to fungal growths in fabrics and on the walls of houses. The reason why these conditions, and not other diseases, were considered unclean may be that they were quite visible, and traditionally connected with punishment by the deity and also associated with death.

  • And so the LORD’s wrath flared against them, and he departed. Now the cloud withdrew from the tent, and there was Miriam, stricken with a scaly infection, white as snow!* When Aaron turned toward Miriam and saw her stricken with snow-white scales, he said to Moses, “Ah, my lord! Please do not charge us with the sin that we have foolishly committed! Do not let her be like the stillborn baby that comes forth from its mother’s womb with its flesh half consumed.” (Numbers 12:10–12)
  • When you come into the land of Canaan, which I am giving you to possess, if I puto a fungal infection in any house of the land you occupy, the owner of the house shall come and report to the priest, “Something like an infection has appeared in my house.” (Leviticus 14:34-35)
  • The LORD will strike you with Egyptian boilss and with tumors, skin diseases and the itch, from none of which you can be cured. And the LORD will strike you with madness, blindness and panic, so that even at midday you will grope in the dark as though blind, unable to find your way. (Deuteronomy 28:27-29)
  • The LORD will strike you with malignant boils of which you cannot be cured, on your knees and legs, and from the soles of your feet to the crown of your head. (Deuteronomy 28:35)
  • May the blood of Abner, son of Ner, be on the head of Joab and all his family. May Joab’s family never be without one suffering from a discharge, or one with a skin disease, or a man who holds the distaff, or one falling by the sword, or one in need of food!” (2 Samuel 3:29)
  • But Elisha said to him: “Was I not present in spirit when someone got down from his chariot to wait for you? Is this a time to take money or to take garments, olive orchards or vineyards, sheep or cattle, male or female servants? The leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you and your descendants forever.” And Gehazi went out, a leper with skin like snow. (2 Kings 5:26–27)
  • But after he had become strong, he became arrogant to his own destruction and acted treacherously with the LORD, his God. He entered the temple of the LORD to make an offering on the altar of incense. But Azariah the priest, and with him eighty other priests of the LORD, courageous men, followed him. They stood up to King Uzziah, saying to him: “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who have been consecrated for this purpose. Leave the sanctuary, for you have acted treacherously and no longer have a part in the glory that comes from the LORD God.” Uzziah, who was holding a censer for burning the incense, became angry. But at the very moment he showed his anger to the priests, while they were looking at him in the house of the LORD beside the altar of incense, leprosy broke out on his forehead. Azariah the chief priest and all the other priests examined him, and when they saw that his forehead was leprous, they rushed him out. He let himself be expelled, for the LORD had afflicted him. King Uzziah remained a leper till the day he died. As a leper he lived in a house apart, for he was excluded from the house of the LORD. Therefore his son Jotham was master of the palace and ruled the people of the land. (2 Chr 26:16–21)

So, at the time of Jesus, the term “leper” was used for the various forms of skin disease.

Jesus after curing the diseased tells them to show themselves to the priest.

  • Then Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one, but go show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.” (Matthew 8:4)
  • And when he saw them, he said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” As they were going they were cleansed. (Luke 17:14)

The phrase “that will be proof for them” in Greek can also mean “that will be proof against them.” It is not clear whether the word “them” refers to the priests or the
people.

Leviticus 14:1-32 prescribes in detail how a person should purify himself after a scaly Infection.

This instance of cleansing a leper has been recorded by Mark and Luke.

The Cleansing of a Leper Mark 1:40-45

A leper came to him [and kneeling down] begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.”

Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.”

The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.

Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once.

Then he said to him, “See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.”

The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere.

The Cleansing of a Leper – Luke 5:12–14

Now there was a man full of leprosy in one of the towns where he was; and when he saw Jesus, he fell prostrate, pleaded with him, and said, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.”

Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do will it. Be made clean.”

And the leprosy left him immediately.

Then he ordered him not to tell anyone, but “Go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.”

The report about him spread all the more, and great crowds assembled to listen to him and to be cured of their ailments, but he would withdraw to deserted places to pray.

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