On Valentine’s Day, A Few Words About Leprosy

Today’s reflection is from Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of New Ways Ministry. 

Today’s liturgical readings can be found by clicking here.

Today is St. Valentine’s Day, a time to celebrate love, sweetness, romance, relationship.

But when you participate at Mass today, in the first reading you will hear these phrases from the Book of Leviticus, chapter 13:

“If someone has on his skin a scab or pustule or blotch
which appears to be the sore of leprosy, . . .
the priest shall declare him unclean. . . .
he shall cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean!’. . . .
He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.”

How romantic.

But this reading from Leviticus is just a set-up foreshadowing the Gospel reading in which Jesus cures a man with leprosy.  Scripture scholars tell us that this leper story contrasts with Jesus’ healing of a man possessed by a demon which is told previously in Mark 1.  In the earlier story, Jesus’ cure of the demoniac takes place inside the synagogue.  But in today’s story of the cure of the leper, Jesus heals someone who was outside the synagogue.  As the Leviticus passage describes, lepers were barred from all associations with the community.

“Jesus Heals the Leper” by Ann Lukesh

So, Jesus’ cure is radical in that he associates with an outcast, and worse, that he heals the leper by touching him, which according to the religious laws of the day was strictly forbidden.  Jesus’ healing cured more than the leper’s physical ailment.  He restored the man to the human community.  In fact, the gospel tells us that the healed man ran to tell everyone about his cure.  Scripture scholar Marie Noonan Sabin explains:

“Jesus thus heals more than the man’s body–he restores him to his community, and changes him from someone who was alone and alienated to one who, it seems, cannot help bearing witness to God’s healing power.” (From The New Collegeville Bible Commentary)

This story is easily applied to the lives and spirituality of LGBTQ Catholics and those who support them.  Many have felt like they were treated as lepers and not allowed inside the church. Many have experienced how the love of God healed them from alienation and loneliness.  Many recognize that God’s love for outsiders often means God subverts the unjust prohibitions of religious institutions which exclude and marginalize certain people.

Perhaps most poignantly on this pandemic Valentine’s Day, the gospel story reminds all people of a particular kind of human contact:  the healing power of touch.

I think this gospel has another important lesson for the LGBTQ Catholic community.  In a motif that runs through Mark’s gospel, after he heals someone, Jesus, surprisingly, tells the person not to tell anyone about what was done.  Is Jesus being humble, not wanting his accomplishments broadcast?  Maybe.  That’s a lesson we all can learn.  Scripture scholars have varying interpretations of Jesus’ repetition of the directive not to tell anyone about him, which is referred to as the “Messianic secret.”

Marie Noonan Sabin says the important point in this particular story is that Jesus’ instruction not to tell anyone about the healing is paired with a pro-active instruction:  the man’s healed body itself is enough proof and witness, not needing additional words to explain it.

As I’ve mentioned before on Bondings 2.0, people in the LGBTQ Catholic community can sometimes get too caught up with words.  I fall into this trap a lot myself.  But the scripture’s message is that a believer’s life is always a more powerful witness than any words we can produce.  Our own good example will help the church become more welcoming to LGBTQ people than any theological argument that can be imagined.  It’s a simple lesson, but one that is hard to learn and live.

Maybe as we celebrate Valentine’s Day, we can start to live that lesson in new and real ways.  Flowery love poems, elaborate greeting cards, and professions of undying devotion will pale next to showing our loved ones by our lives and by our actions how much they mean to us.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 14, 2021



4 replies
  1. Don E Siegal
    Don E Siegal says:

    Off topic, but related. In our prayers of the faithful at mass this morning. We prayed for “All married couples.” Do you have any idea how good that inclusiveness made me feel? We are a progressive mission congregation in Three Rivers CA located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.


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