Unclean...

Gospel Reflection for January 14, 2021 — Mark 1:4-45

I often wonder these days why COVID-19 is being treated as such a hugely unique danger. For most of the past century, the medical profession had become highly proficient in isolation techniques. Now, everyone infected is “Unclean.” Multitudes of people are being denied basic dignities, being allowed to die alone and families are being denied their grieving processes. Whether or not the fear is justified, the mental and spiritual toll on society is taking us back to near biblical times in our reactions.


At times, as a person who is unable to wear a mask. In public, I almost feel compelled to shout “UNCLEAN” as I go about in public.


Back in the day, working in, or visiting a hospital or a nursing home, I’d often come upon a room that with a warning on the door. It would say, “Infection. All visitors must check with nurses station and then use mask, gloves and gown.” After I had done this for a while, I became use to “gowning up.” It was common though, for me to feel bad for the poor patient. I would imagine that it made them seem like an outcast to society, similar to the lepers in our Gospel stories.


In our day however (at least until the days of COVID) medical professionals have the means of treating these patients with a sense of dignity. That was not the case back in the days of our Lord–or even up to the middle of the last century. When people were seen as infected, they were isolated from the community. No one would care for them, no matter how sick they were. They were seen to be unclean. In fact, that had to walk around with a bell and continually shout, “Unclean, Unclean.” By unclean they meant more than dirty. For the ancients, unclean could have meant “possessed by evil.” But it also indicated that they were infected with something for which there was no known cure.


In these instances, these poor individuals, with one of the many diseases included in the category of leprosy, were forced to live completely isolated from society, with no one to care for them, hoping that some kind people would leave them food or even some garbage for them to go through. If they walked from one place to another, they had to call out “Unclean,” not just so people could avoid them, but so the people could be protected from the evil that must have done this to them.

And then Jesus came. He cured lepers. He did not see people who were unclean. He did not fear the power of evil. He saw people who were suffering the result of evil. For that is what all suffering is, the result of evil. He saw them, cared for them, and healed them. They would not have to go around calling out, “Unclean” anymore.


There are times that may we also feel unclean. And I don’t mean unclean because we need to take a shower. I mean unclean because we know that we have fallen for the attack of evil. And we see our parents, friends, or other people we love, and feel so rotten about ourselves that we really don’t even want to talk to them. “They are good,” we realize, and then we ask, “What if they were to know what I have done?” Or we walk into Church and see so many people trying to be their best, and we don’t feel t