Daily Reflection
January 13th, 2000
Dennis Hamm, S.J.
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1 Samuel 4:1-11
Psalms 44:10-11, 14-15, 25-26
Mark 1:40-45

Imagine what is involved in the meeting between Jesus and "the leper." 

I put "leper" in quotes to remind us that the words from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament that we have traditionally translated as "leprosy" do not mean what we mean by that word today, i.e. Hansen's disease (made famous by Damien the leper).  Rather, the biblical words refer to a whole range of infectious skin diseases.  Leviticus 13-14 records detailed laws dealing with the quarantining and, when healing has been ascertained, the reincorporation of persons with diseases in this category--called in Hebrew "tzaraat."  A person with a case of "tzaraat" became ritually unclean, barred from community and temple worship.  And anyone who came into contact with such a person became ritually unclean, and of course possibly infected with the disease.

So the man with tzaraat who approaches Jesus is taking a risk.  He is violating his quarantine and probably liable to some public sanction.  And Jesus takes an even greater risk when he not only engages the man in conversation but reaches out and touches him. 

The man afflicted with tzaraat suffers in a double way:  he suffers the discomfort of the disease, but even more he suffers from being literally untouchable and excluded from the community.  And so Jesus' gesture of reaching out and touching him is more than means of bringing about the physical cure; the touching is an act of compassion healing the human disconnection that has accompanied his physical ailment.  Notice, too, that while Jesus' touching is a technical breach of the Law, Jesus is careful to remind the man to obey the procedures outlined in the Leviticus by presenting himself to the temple priests for clearance and doing the prescribed sacrifice. 

This healing account gives new meaning to the phrase "reach out and touch someone."  And it works two ways.  When, for some reason, we ourselves feel "untouchable," this powerful story can encourage us to present ourselves to the Lord for whatever restoration we need.  And from the other side, this story can remind us that, in the spirit of Jesus, we too can heal whenever we connect in a human way with someone who has been put on the outside and otherwise rendered "untouchable" by our group, our culture, or by some prevailing prejudice.  It could even happen by telephone. 

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