Third Sunday after Epiphany—25 January AD 2009
“I have not found such great faith in Israel.”
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
Today’s Gospel speaks of two miracles—the healing of a
leper, and the healing of the Centurion’s servant. The second of these
two is by far the more memorable. The Centurion was a man of some
importance—the title means that he was the commander over roughly a hundred
Roman soldiers, or nearly five hundred (a cohort) if he had lot of seniority, he
was a moderately well educated man, he had some social and political
connections—and he literally had “life or death” authority over the men he
The Centurion is memorable for us because we speak his
words every time we receive Holy Communion—“Lord, I am not that thou
shouldst enter under my roof—Dómine, non sum dignus....” It is
even likely that we say them in the same language as He, for it is quite
possible that he spoke to Jesus through an interpreter who could translate his
Latin into Aramaic.
Of course he is most memorable for his faith. He was
a man of authority, who quickly recognized the same kind of authority in our
Lord. When either one of them gave a command it was obeyed. And he
recognized in Jesus a power which he had never seen in any man before.
“Lord, if You give the word, my servant will be healed”—no question about
it! For those of us who are not of the race of Abraham, the Centurion won
great consolation and assurance that “many [of us] shall come from the west
and the east, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of
But we also hear about this man with leprosy—which, in
our Lord’s time, could mean any one of several diseases in which the body
developed sores and the flesh literally died and fell away. The Mosaic Law
was very clear that those with leprosy were to avoid contact with society in
every way that they could, always announcing their presence before they came
near to people without the disease. Two chapters of the Book of Leviticus
are devoted to the regulations for identifying the disease, isolating the
victims, and determining the genuineness of the occasionally claimed cures.
The determination was to be made by the priests of the Temple, who would also
receive and offer a prescribed sacrifice.
All of the synoptic Gospel accounts of this cure hint that
the leper in question was careless in keeping the Law. Matthew and Luke
say that he entered a populous area; together with Mark the three agree
that he approached Jesus rather abruptly, pleading for his cure from this dread
Jesus. of course, was compassionate—all three accounts indicate that “He
stretched forth His hand and touched” the leper.
Now the Law had a number of things that one was not
supposed to touch—and touching one of them, even accidentally, made a person
“unclean” for a period of time—an unclean animal, a corpse, blood, and
certainly the flesh of a leper made one “unclean.” One didn’t even
touch the clothes of a leper, yet, our Lord, who showed great respect for the
Law, touched him. This may have been the first indication that God
was to do away with the merely ritual proscriptions of the Mosaic Law—what
Saint Paul would later refer to as the “dead works of the Law.” In
this simple act, Jesus proclaimed that the Law was made for men, and not men for
the Law—at least not for the ritual proscriptions of the Law. Under
Christianity one is not held to account for actions that are not evil in
themselves, nor for things that happen accidentally.
All three Gospel accounts tell us that Jesus reacted
favorably and directly to the leper’s request. “‘Be thou made
clean.’ and immediately the leprosy left him.” In modern times we have
discovered medical cures for leprosy. We have drugs that one can take, but
none cure immediately, and some must be taken indefinitely if the disease is not
There is a bacterium that must be overcome, and even then the lesions take time
to heal. But our Lord healed this man “immediately” and sent him to
the priests, who could judge his cure only by external appearances. The
rapidity of the cure seems the same as that of the Centurion’s servant.
It is also clear from the Gospels that the leper had faith.
He recognized the divinity in Jesus Christ: “he came and adored Him”;
Saint Mark has him kneeling, and Saint Luke says that he went fully prostrate,
“falling down on his face.” And, notice that he doesn’t ask Jesus to
pray for him, but rather believed that Jesus Himself possessed the powers of
divinity. Leprosy was believed to be a punishment for sin, so the leper
was asking Jesus to free him from his sins; certainly something God alone
We can only presume that when the leper left Jesus he made
the trip to Jerusalem and presented himself to the priests, as both the Law
commanded and Jesus ordered. About this the scriptures are silent.
But we do know from Mark and Luke that the leper disregarded our Lord’s
injunction that he “tell no man.” Perhaps out of pride, or perhaps out
of joy with his good fortune, the leper told many people about his miracle.
Apparently all the publicity caused a problem for our Lord, who began to avoid
the cities, where He feared pandemonium might break out, and began to preach in
the deserts between the cities.
There are times when we are required to profess our
Catholic Faith—indeed, we may never deny the Faith under threat of
persecution. But, perhaps, there are times when it is best to be
discreet—particularly when legitimate superiors tell us to be so—and, á fortiori,
when Jesus Christ tells us to be so! And, even when it is appropriate to
show our Faith, it ought to be out of joy rather than pride—we Catholics are
not better than other people, but we have a wonderful thing in being the adopted
brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Finally, Faith is demonstrated more powerfully in good
example and good works than in any other way. Look at what Saint Paul said
to us today:
To no man render evil for evil ... have peace with all men.
Revenge not yourselves ... But if thine enemy be hungry, give him to eat ...
give him to drink .... Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good.