1Sm 4:1-11; Ps 44:10-25; Mk 1:40-45
Anyone with leprosy or any other disease that isolates those who suffer so completely must ask this question in some fashion again and again: “Why do you hide your face?” Israel, too, felt abandoned by God when 30,000 foot soldiers were killed and the ark of God was captured: “Why do you hide your face?” Unless we trust in the LORD as our redeemer, unless we trust in the mercy of the LORD, this question will bring us to despair. The armies of Israel feel cast off and left in disgrace because it seems that the LORD does not go with them into battle. Indeed, the enemies of Israel have driven them back and plundered them again and again. Israel has become the reproach of nearby countries; insults and scorn abound. It feels like God has reduced Israel to an international joke. What hurts the most though, is that the LORD has hidden his face. The LORD seems to forget the misery and oppression of his people. Indeed, the Israelites feel bowed down to the dust and pressed into the earth. Has anyone among us not experienced something similar? Have we not said at one time or another, “Why do you hide your face, O Lord?”
The elders of Israel held a counsel after the Philistines had defeated them in battle and slew some 4,000 men on the battlefield. In their meeting these wise old men naturally asked the painful question. They put it in these terms, “Why has the LORD permitted us to be defeated today by the Philistines?” Notice, there is no consideration of new military tactics. Nor do they consider other forms of negotiation. Battle is the only solution, and winning is the only option. This stubbornness limits their discussion, somewhat. In the very next line we read of their enlightened strategy, “Let us fetch the ark of the LORD from Shiloh that it may go into battle among us and save us from the grasp of our enemies.” They are willing to risk it all. They are willing to put the LORD to the test. They are willing to risk loosing the most powerful symbol of the LORD’s presence among them. Not until generations after this defeat and the next one do the people begin to consider that perhaps the LORD has a plan that will not meet with the approval of the elders or the people. Perhaps oppression and suffering are part of that plan. How could the LORD “permit” such a thing?
Why didn’t the Lord Jesus let the leper suffer and die in his misery? Perhaps the Lord healed him because the leper’s faith moved Christ to pity. At least that is the reason Saint Mark wants us to consider as we listen to the account of this powerful sign. The leper prayed with a certain openness, unlike the elders of Israel in the first reading. The leper said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” He believed that the Lord Jesus could work such a wonder, but he wasn’t sure whether or not the Lord wanted to work such a sign. This brings the focus of Saint Mark’s account to the compassion of Christ. The Lord did not hesitate and make a pact with the leper saying something like, “Well, I’ll heal you if only you will not tell everyone.” Even though the Lord Jesus did not want the crowds to gather to see the new “wonder-worker” entertain with signs of power and might, he was willing to take the risk. Are we willing to take the risk? Are we willing to give over our desires, wants, and needs to the LORD? Are we willing to trust that his compassion abounds still? His reputation spread all over the country and, his deeds of power attracted all kinds of attention. Certain powerful people were threatened by daily increasing number of his followers. They considered him dangerous, and they thought that the death of one “wonder-workers” to save the nation was not too costly. How could the LORD permit such suffering?