Last night, I was reading Matt 8:1-4 (which coincidentally happens to be the parallel passage for today’s Gospel reading in the Lectionary i.e. Mk 1:40-45).
In this account, our Lord heals a leper of his leprosy and tells him to go and show himself to the priest and offer the sacrifice commanded by Moses. The law that our Lord is referring to is found in Leviticus 13 – 14. Basically, if an Israelite had a blemish in his skin (or garments or home) it was necessary for him to show himself to the priest, who would then make a judgment based on God’s prescriptions, and if he was declared a leper he would be removed from the community and have to publically declare himself a leper. Then if his leprosy was subsequently healed, he would return to the priest who would make a judgment on whether he could be pronounced clean. After a pronouncement of being clean, he would then have to offer a sacrifice.
How does this tie in with the Sacrament of Reconciliation?
We are created in God’s image, but we are tainted with sin. This is pictured by the blemish of leprosy. We know that in the Sacrament of Reconciliation it is the Lord Jesus Christ who forgives us of our sins. But, we also know that the ministry of reconciliation and the authority to pronounce forgiveness has been delegated by Christ to His Church (Jn 20:23; 2 Cor 5:18).
And so, just as the leper had to “confess” his leprosy to the priest, it is necessary for us to confess our sins to the priest. Just as the priest would pronounce the leper “clean”, our priest will pronounce an absolution i.e. that our sins have been forgiven in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And just as the Israelite had to make a sacrifice, so we too make our penance for our sins as prescribed by the priest.
I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was when I saw this as I was reading last night. Initially I thought that perhaps I was reading too much into the passage so I decided to check if my reading was in line with Church teaching...and I got even more excited when I found that “my” interpretation was by no means novel. On the contrary, I found that St. Augustine, arguably the Church’s greatest theologian, advocated this very same position in his “Questions on the Gospels”.
This is just another of those wonderful occasions where the Lord has shown me the wonderful treasures in store for us when we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us as we read the Scriptures through the eyes of the Church.