Role Reversal: Jesus and the Leper

An interesting thought occurred to me as I listened to today’s scripture readings at mass. I’m speaking specifically of the Old Testament and Gospel readings. Here they are.

“The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, ‘When a man has on the skin of his body a swelling or an eruption or a spot, and it turns into a leprous disease on the skin of his body, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests…[If] he is a leprous man, he is unclean; the priest must pronounce him unclean; his disease is on his head. The leper who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean; he shall dwell alone in a habitation outside the camp.'” – Leviticus 13:1-2,44-46

“And a leper came to [Jesus] beseeching him, and kneeling said to him, ‘If you will, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And he sternly charged him, and sent him away at once, and said to him, ‘See that you say nothing to any one; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to the people.’ But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.”

Today, I noticed an interesting contrast in these verses that I’d never noticed before. Hearing the passage from Leviticus, we picture a leprous man submitting himself to a priest. The priest declares the man unclean, thus sentencing him to a life outside of common society in order to prevent the spread of his contagion. Whereas in the gospel a leper approaches the Great High Priest, Jesus, who declares him clean and sends him back into common society. Once there, he tells of the good news of Jesus’ healing power, and that news spreads like a contagion. As a result, Jesus is unable to openly enter towns and remains in the country. In effect, Jesus takes the place of the leper.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of that, but I found it fascinating and wanted to share it. Anyone else have some light to shed on this matter?

Comments 4

  1. Fr Jim Tucker wrote:

    That same parallel struck me for the first time yesterday, too. I preached on the Epistle, though, so I didn’t develop the idea.

    Posted 13 Feb 2006 at 12:13 pm
  2. Rob wrote:

    With a human writing a story, parallels may be either accidental or deliberate.

    With an infinite Intelligence involved, I’d argue everything’s deliberate.

    Good catch.

    Posted 12 Feb 2006 at 11:06 pm
  3. Ontario Emperor wrote:

    Didn’t Leviticus also have procedures to declare an unclean person clean? That might be the true parallel here.

    Posted 13 Feb 2006 at 7:14 pm
  4. Funky Dung wrote:

    The book describes what to do *if* a person becomes clean, not how to *make* a person clean. Jesus instructed the former leper to fulfill the requirements of the Law regarding what do if a leper is made clean.

    Posted 13 Feb 2006 at 7:23 pm

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