12 February 2012
An eight year old boy, through no fault of his own, because of a blood transfusion was infected with the AIDS virus. His teacher told how this had affected the boy. The kid was all of a sudden treated like a leper. Other children refused to play with him. Even the teachers kept apart from the boy. Whatever the parish priest said assuring them that there was no danger whatsoever of infection, the people reacted with fear and refused all contact with the family. He asked whether this innocent boy had all of a sudden lost the right to a human life. The kid himself explained that the worst thing for him was to feel rejected and regarded as an outcast.
A nameless gospel leper – and a brave if disobedient man challenges Jesus with ‘if you want to you can cure me’. Not a request but a downright challenge. Maybe his bravery came from having nothing to lose. Leprosy made one an outcast, shunned, defined by one’s malignancy, typecast and dead for all practical purposes.
It so happens in our day that AIDS is often compared to leprosy and many people because of their fear of the disease will cut off all contacts with the AIDS victim. In the gospel today Jesus does the unthinkable thing. He reaches out and touches the leper. He touches the untouchable.
In Jesus’ day once a person was found to have contracted the dreaded disease of leprosy he was cut off from society and had to live apart, outside towns and stay a certain distance away. He also had to shout out to warn anyone that might come near to him. Not only that but they were obviously prevented from taking part in the religious services in the synagogue or living in a village with their family.
So in touching the leper, Jesus risked catching the disease. He also became ritually impure according to the Jewish law and would have had to undergo a process of religious purification before being allowed back again to worship in the synagogue. Obviously, Jesus was prepared to risk all this for the good of the leper. In healing the leper, it is much more than a physical healing. The leper is now able to enter into contact with his family and villagers again. He can again participate in the synagogue worship. The healing by Jesus takes place on many levels – the physical, social, religious and the psychological. Psychologically, like the kid with the aids, the leper would have felt rejected, unwanted, cut off. What a terrible blow to one’s self-esteem!
At the same time, he is warned by Jesus not to say anything to anyone about it. Jesus wanted no sensationalism. The healing was for the man’s sake; it was not a publicity stunt to enhance Jesus’ public image. Jesus’ mission was to bring wholeness into people’s lives but he did not want to be seen just as wonderworker. Jesus’ healing cannot be seen apart from his teaching about how we should live our lives. Even today people run to this or that shrine in the hope of seeing wonders while having little awareness of what really constitutes the life of the Christian.
Because the leper told many others what had happened, Jesus can no longer go openly into any town but has to stay outside in places where nobody lived. What an incredible exchange or turnabout. The outcast leper becomes an insider whilst Jesus becomes the outsider. This indeed, because of his total love, is God’s incredible gift to us. We often offer him the worst, our sinfulness, our rejection of him. He offers in exchange his total acceptance of us. We hang him on the cross. He offers us salvation. We offer him our humanity; he offers us his divinity. And sadly, people still doubt God. They believe he is out to punish us for our sins. Does this little story not give a completely opposite teaching? That is indeed Good News especially for people who think because of past or present sins that God is going to punish them. In the gospel story Jesus is delighted to heal the leper. He is very touched by the faith and trust of the leper
The leper knew his total need of Jesus. He is in a desperate state. When we go to Jesus in our total need of his help and healing he will do the same for us, in his own way and time. Often we say we need God but it is only when we really experience this need on a deep level that we give him the opportunity to do what he wants for us.
Who are the lepers in our time? Apart from people with AIDS, there are drug addicts, alcoholics, homosexuals, down and outs, some immigrants, itinerants etc. Also those who are depressed or lonely, those rejected by certain church people because they consider their lifestyles immoral.
What of me? – do I keep away from those who have hurt me, those on a lower social level to me, from others maybe because of the colour of their skin or because they don’t belong to our church or indeed any church.
The Good News is that our God is a God of solidarity and welcome who reaches out and delights in healing us on no matter what level if only we will allow Him. Do we witness to this kind of God to others in our daily way of living?
“Lord Jesus, praise and thank you for wanting to heal us in the way that is best for us, Amen”
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA