As Jesus’ exciting first day of ministry in Capernaum ends, “the whole town was gathered at the door”. The next morning “ very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed,” Mark’s Gospel read yesterday noted. (Mark 1: 29-39)
Jesus often went by himself to deserted places to pray, but in the gospel today (Mark 1:40-45) a “deserted place” is also where he meets a leper. Lepers then were banished to deserted places, outside the towns, for fear their disease, their “uncleanness”, might infect others. “Social distancing” at its extreme.
Rembrandt (above) has a wonderful sketch of Jesus and the leper. Peter and another follower seem to be hiding behind him, keeping their distance from it all, but Jesus reaches out and touches the leper kneeling before him.
Jesus is keenly aware of human suffering wherever he finds it, in the towns and villages he visits or in deserted places where people hide from it. Isn’t it true that, like Peter and his other followers, we’re often afraid of people like lepers, people suffering so much we think we’re going to be overwhelmed by their suffering?
Unfortunately, we avoid the deserted places where the lepers are. (Maybe too the desert place of prayer) We hide from the sufferings of the world. “None of that near me,” we say.
But Jesus leads us to the leper. He helps us see suffering and then reach our hands out to it.
I notice the last line of today’s gospel reading: “He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere. “(Mark 1: 45) Does Jesus eventually leave the “deserted places” for “other towns and places”, or does Mark mean to say he remains in them; they’re privileged places where we can find him?