Decoding the Ritual — Friday After Epiphany

Jesus stretched out his hand, touched the leper before Him, and said, “Be made clean.” The leprosy left him immediately and Jesus ordered Him, “Go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed…” What was Jesus asking this man to do? In the Book of Leviticus it says:

This is the law for the victim of leprosy at the time of his purification. He shall be brought to the priest, who is to go outside the camp to examine him. If the priest finds that the sore of leprosy has healed in the leper, he shall order the man who is to be purified, to get two live, clean birds, as well as some cedar wood, scarlet yarn, and hyssop. The priest shall then order him to slay one of the birds over an earthen vessel with spring water in it. Taking the living bird with the cedar wood, the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, the priest shall dip them all in the blood of the bird that was slain over the spring water, and then sprinkle seven times the man to be purified from his leprosy. When he has thus purified him, he shall let the living bird fly away over the countryside.  (Leviticus 14:2-7)

Hidden within this strange Old Covenant ritual, Jesus Christ is concealed. And through Jesus’ death for us on the cross the true symbolism of this ritual is revealed.

The scarlet, the wood and the hyssop all have their place in Christ’s Passion.  The scarlet yarn points to the robe they placed upon Him; the wood to the cross on which they nailed Him; and the hyssop to the branch they used to offer Him drink. One bird is slain and the other is spared, dipped in the water and the blood of its brother. This water points to the water of Christian baptism, which receives its grace through the blood of Jesus’ cross. In the ritual the priest would take all of these things and sprinkle the man to be purified seven (the perfect number of) times from his leprosy. In His Passion Jesus took all these things and used them to purify us from the leprosy of our sins.

In our wonder at these signs, let us make our faith in God firmer, and give Him our thanks.

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