by Father Mike Stubbs
The theme of separation runs throughout the Bible.
In the first story of creation, God separates dry land from water, light from darkness, day from night (Gen 1:3-9).
The theme of separation continues in the Law of Moses, which divides all food into clean and unclean. All animals similarly undergo this division into clean and unclean. This separation stands for the division between the holy and the profane.
In the Law of Moses, a physical state could also render someone unclean. For example, if a person would touch a corpse, that would render the person unclean. If a person contracted leprosy, then that person became unclean. The Law of Moses directed that person to separate himself or herself from society (Lv 13-15).
In Sunday’s Gospel reading, Mk 1:40-45, the leper appears to violate that dictate of the law, by approaching Jesus. He begs Jesus, “If you wish, you can make me clean.”
Jesus himself also violates the law: “Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, ‘I do will it. Be made clean.’”
By his healing of the leper, Jesus restores him to society. He overcomes what had caused the leper to be separated from his family and his community.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus moves away from the tendency toward separation. Instead, he wishes to bring people together, to reconcile them. He even at times extends his ministry to the Gentiles.
This outward movement appears most clearly in St. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. He writes that we have inherited this ministry of reconciliation:
“And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation — namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18-19).
Similarly, St. Paul writes: “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:27-28).
In other words, St. Paul views membership in the church as counteracting any tendency toward separation. It is the first step toward overcoming divisions in humanity.
As members of the church, we also have inherited that responsibility. We can begin by reaching out to those who think or act differently from us, whether they are fellow Catholics or other Christians.