HOW TO BE CLEANSED OF THE LEPROSY OF SIN ACCORDING TO THE GOSPEL
(Part I “The Meaning of ‘Leper’ and ‘Infected With Leprosy’ in the Gospels” was posted on this blog on January 14 2014.)
“ON THE THREE VIRTUES, WITHOUT WHICH NO-ONE IS CLEANSED FROM THE LEPROSY OF SIN
‘And behold, a leper came and adored him, saying: Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean’ [Mt 8:2]. Note that the three words ‘came’, ‘adore’ and ‘said: Lord, if thou wilt’ denote contrition, confession and faith, which are very needful for every sinner. First he should ‘come’ by contrition, ‘Come from Libanus’ [Cant 4:8], from the false glamour of worldly vanity.
OVERCOMING WORLDLY VANITY
‘He that heareth, let him say: Come’ [Apoc 22:17]. He who hears ‘the whisper of a gentle breeze’ [3 (1) Kg 19:12] in his mind, by inward inspiration, should say to the sinner ‘come’, by contrition. As Isaiah says:
‘If you seek: return, come’ [Is 21:12]
So, ‘the leper came and adored him’. Behold the humility of confession, expressed more clearly by Mark, who says:
‘He came to him, beseeching him; and kneeling down said to him: If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean’ [Mk 1:40].
In this way, the sinner, when he comes to confession, should kneel before the priest, the representative of Jesus Christ, who has given him the power of binding and loosing. The one confessing should have such faith in his office that he may say to him, ‘Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean’, and absolve me from my sins.
There follows: ‘And stretching forth his hand he touched him, saying: I will, be thou made clean’ [Mt 8:3]. He speaks in the imperative mood, ‘his hand turned and as of gold, full of hyacinths [Cant 5:14], and at its touch the tongue of the dumb is loosed, the ruler’s daughter is raised, the leper is cleansed of his leprosy. ‘My hand has made all these things’ [Is 66:2]. The hand bestows reward: so stretch out your hand, Lord, to bestow reward, that hand which was stretched out by the nail on the Cross. Touch the leper: whatever you touch will be cleansed and healed. Luke says:
‘When he had touched his ear, he healed him’ [Lk 22:51].
He stretched out his hand and bestowed the gift of cleansing, saying:
‘I will: be thou made clean. And forthwith his leprosy was cleansed’ [Mt 8:3].
‘He hath done all things whatsoever he would’ [Ps 113b:3]. For him, there is no gap between will and deed. Every day, the Lord does this same thing in the soul of the sinner, by the office of the priest; who should have these three things in himself, ‘to stretch out’, ‘to touch’, ‘to will’. He stretches out his hand when he pours out his prayer to the Lord for the sinner, and afflicts himself out of compassion for him. He touches, when he comforts the sinner and promises him pardon. He has the will to cleanse, when he absolves him from his sins. This is the threefold work of a shepherd, of which the Lord spoke to Peter: ‘Feed, feed, feed’ [Jn 21:15-17].
ON ETERNAL LIFE, THE ONLY REWARD EXPECTED
There follows: ‘And Jesus saith to him: See thou tell no man’ [Mt 8:4]. This is not the manner of speaking of those who blow their own trumpet when they do anything good, whose left hand knows all too well what their right hand is doing [cf. Mt 6:3]. They as it were ‘prostitute their daughter’, against the prohibition of Moses, who said:
‘Make not thy daughter a common strumpet’ [Lev 19:29].
Your ‘daughter’ is your action, and you prostitute it when you sell it to the world’s brothel for the coin of vainglory.
What a sad bargain, selling the reward of the heavenly kingdom for the wind of a human mouth!
‘See thou tell no man’: do not show what is yours to anyone. Are not God and your conscience enough for you, brother? What have you in common with the tongue of man? It condemns what it should praise, it praises what it should condemn. It casts the just man into the depths of hell, it raises the wicked to the throne of God and of the Lamb. ‘See thou tell no man.’ So Ecclesiasticus says:
‘Give no issue to thy water, no, not a little’ [Ecclus 25:34].
‘My secret to myself, my secret to myself’ [Is 24:16].
And at the word of Eliseus:
‘The woman went, and shut the door upon her, and upon her sons’ [4 (2)Kg 4:5].
‘Having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret’ [Mt 6:6].
‘Remove not from house to house’ [Lk 10:7].
So, ‘see thou tell no man.’ Nature sets a double gate in front of the tongue, the teeth and the lips, lest the harlot who loves publicity goes out into the street, ‘talkative and wandering, not bearing to be quiet’ [Prov 7:10-11]. Close your teeth, press your lips together, lest the harlot goes out to the brothel; as Ecclesiasticus says:
‘Do not give a wicked woman liberty to gad abroad’ [Ecclus 25:34].
Then you will fulfil the command: ‘See thou tell no man.’
There follows: ‘But go, show thyself to the priests’ [Mt 8:4]. These three words and their meaning are explained in the Gospel of the ten lepers: ‘When Jesus was going to Jerusalem’ [Pentecost XIV].
ON THE TWO-FOLD OFFERING WHICH EVERY PENITENT SHOULD MAKE FOR HIS CLEANSING
There follows: ‘And offer the gift which Moses commanded for a testimony unto them’ [Mt 8:4].
And the Lord ‘spoke to Moses: This is the rite of a leper, when he is to be cleansed. He shall be brought to the priest: who, going out of the camp, when he shall find that the leprosy is cleansed, shall command him that is to be purified, to offer for himself two living sparrows, which it is lawful to eat, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop. And he shall command one of the sparrows to be immolated in an earthen vessel over living waters. But the other that is alive he shall dip, with the cedar wood, and the scarlet and the hyssop, in the blood of the sparrow that is immolated: wherewith he shall sprinkle him that is to be cleansed seven times, that he may be rightly purified. And he shall let go the living sparrow, that it may fly into the field… And he shall take (or offer) two lambs without blemish, and an ewe of a year old without blemish, and three tenths of flour tempered with oil for a sacrifice, and a sextuary of oil apart… but if he be poor; and his hand cannot find the things aforesaid: he shall take a lamb for an offering for trespass, and a tenth of flour tempered with oil for a sacrifice, and a sextuary of oil: and two turtle doves or two young pigeons, of which one may be for sin, the other for a holocaust. And he shall offer them… to the priest, at the door of the tabernacle of the testimony before the Lord.’ [Lev 14:1-7, 10, 21-23].
Let us see what is the moral significance of all this.
… The ‘two living sparrows’ are the body and spirit [of the very pious] who can say with the Apostle: ‘I live, now not I, but Christ liveth in me’ [Gal 2:20]. He offers these sparrows to the Lord for his cleansing. So it says in Judges:
‘O you that of your own good will offered yourselves to danger, bless the Lord; you that ride upon fair asses, and you that sit in judgement, and walk in the way’ [Jg 5:9-10].
The ‘fair asses’ are the bodies [of the very pious] who bear the burden and heat of the day, and who like asses should feed on raw and rough food. Ecclesiasticus says:
‘Fodder and a wand and a burden are for an ass: bread and correction and work for a slave’ [Ecclus 33:25]
that is, for a religious who ‘sits in judgement’ when he is under obedience to a superior, and ‘walks in the way’ Jeremiah speaks of:
‘This is the good way, and walk you in it’ [Jer 6:16]
that Way who himself says: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ [Jn 14:6].
[The very pious] should also offer the ‘cedar wood’ of poverty, the ‘scarlet’ of charity and the ‘hyssop’ of humility. The tall cedar of poverty, whose scent puts to flight the serpents of avarice and robbery, is joined to the hyssop of humility, which drives out the swelling of the lungs by means of the scarlet of a twofold charity. One of the sparrows (that is, the body) he shall sacrifice, so as to say with the Apostle:
‘The world is crucified to me, and I to the world’ [Gal 6:14]
‘I am even now ready to be sacrificed’ [2 Tim 4:6].
‘In an earthen vessel’, for as the Apostle says:
‘We have this treasure in earthen vessels’ [2 Cor 4:7]
‘over living waters’, namely compunction and tears, which are ‘living’ when they are poured out upon ‘the upper and the nether watery ground’ [Jos 15:19; Jg 1:15], of which Zechariah says:
‘In that day living waters shall go out from Jerusalem’
(the heart of the penitent),
‘half of them to the east sea’
(the ‘upper watery ground’)
‘and half of them to the last sea’
(the ‘nether watery ground’) [Zech 14:8].
The ‘east sea’ is bitterness for the splendour of eternal life; the ‘last sea’ is bitterness for the sins committed by oneself, for our earthly exile, and for the sins of one’s neighbour. So [the very pious should] ‘immolate the sparrow in an earthen vessel over living waters’, by crucifying his body with its vices and desires, and pondering in bitterness of spirit the frailty of life and the downfall of our exile.
There follows: ‘But the other that is alive’, etc. The living sparrow is the spirit, which he should dip, along with the cedar-wood of poverty, the scarlet of charity and the hyssop of humility, in the blood of the sparrow (the body) which has been sacrificed on the altar of penitence. The affliction and discipline of the body (represented as ‘blood’) cleanses and sanctifies the spirit, so that it flies on the wings of contemplation, with those other virtues we have mentioned, to the field of heaven.
There follows: ‘And he shall take two lambs without blemish’, etc. The two lambs stand for meekness of soul and body; the ewe for a simple and pure intention in all one’s work; the three-tenths of flour for the threefold obedience of [superiors, equals and inferiors]; and the sextuary of oil for the six works of mercy. This is the offering which every [very pious person] should offer for the cleansing of his own sin.
There follows: ‘But if he be poor’, etc. The lamb represents innocence of life, the tenth part of the flour the perfection of eternal charity, the sextuary of oil the six works of mercy (as before), the two turtle-doves or pigeons the two-fold sighing which the sinner should emit for things done and left undone. This is the offering which [other good folk still living in the world] should make to the Lord – namely, to live innocently, to love their neighbour, to do works of mercy and to be sorry for sins of commission and omission. So let us say: ‘Go, show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift which Moses commanded for a testimony unto them.'”
– St Anthony of Padua