These Sundays at Mass we’re looking at the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry vividly described in Mark’s gospel. Jesus came from the Jordan River where he was baptized with Peter and his brother Andrew, and James and his brother John, fishermen from Capernaum.
He was invited to stay in Peter’s house in that town, which today you can see if you’re fortunate to visit the Holy Land. Archeologists have uncovered the town of Capernaum in recent years and you can see the remnants of its old houses made of black basalt, the foundations of the synagogue where Jesus prayed; and beyond the town are the low mountains where he taught. It’s a fascinating place.
Peter’s house was the center of his ministry there, it seems. Mark describes what happened after Jesus cured Peter’s mother in law: “When it was evening after sunset they brought to him all who were ill and possessed by demons, and he cured them. The whole town was gathered at the door.”
In recent times, Franciscan archeologists have identified Peter’s house among the closely packed houses of the town, and a shrine church is built over it now.
So many people crowded around that house that Jesus had to escape to the surrounding hills to pray. Afterwards he told his disciples that he had to visit other towns and places in Galilee.
Probably the leper approached him as he was going to one of those other towns. Our first reading from the Book of Leviticus gives a succinct account of how lepers were treated in those days. They were separated from family and hometowns and sent to live apart in abominable conditions. People were afraid to go near them.
Rembrandt has a wonderful sketch of the lepers approaching Jesus.(above) It looks like Peter, who is behind him, is hiding in back of the Lord afraid to catch anything from the poor creatures who approach begging for help and healing.
Are we too afraid of people like the lepers, people suffering so much, people suffering from unexplained suffering, that we think we’re going to be overwhelmed by their suffering? We hide from the sufferings of the world. “None of that near me,” we say. But Jesus leads us to the leper. Let’s see suffering with him.