|6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46
Psalm 32:1-2, 5, 11
So as to be more disposed to the hearing of God’s word, imagine a man kneeling before Jesus. The man has ulcers on his entire body and his withered arms are stumps so only his plea can reach out to Jesus. The “untouchable” touches Jesus who touches the “untouchable” because he was moved with compassion.
Leprosy was both a physical illness and quite a social alienation in the time of Jesus. Two full chapters in the book of Leviticus deal with how lepers were to be handled, or rather, not handled. Being different, especially in something physical, such as leprosy or being barren, was seen as an affront to the goodness of God and so was in the same category as sin.
The Leper of today’s Gospel forms a picture of a man who experiences suffering, but comes to Jesus in his need and simplicity. Jesus meets the man’s truth, his condition, and his faith. Jesus meets us there as well.
These days we can pray for and with our true conditions. Perhaps the healing we need is from living with the lies we have told ourselves, because of some physical, emotional, or socially alienating experience. We might pray as well about what we consider normal. We can pray with our attitudes which exclude our reaching out towards those whom we consider “unclean” or below our line of sight.
Mumps, Chicken Pox, and measles which entered our house, (my father said it was because we played with the German kids next door), brought a visit from the Public Nurse. Until her next visit there was a rectangular notice on our front door, that announced a quarantine. We were not allowed out and nobody, not even the Irish kids, could come in. We were “unclean” until the plague was over and the notice was removed.
In today’s First Reading we hear but a few lines from the two chapters dedicated to leprosy. There is the physical leprosy mentioned, but also leprosy of clothing and of the house. Cleanliness was definitely the in-thing. The writers of these chapters authenticated these laws by putting them down as words spoken by God to Moses and Aaron. These prescriptions gave much power to the priests who were the “Public Nurses” of the time. They decided who was out and how the “outs” got back in.
Any form of decay, sores, disfigurement or unusual characteristic was data for the priests to do their thing. There were rituals of sacrifice for sin, which the priests could perform when they judged the healing of the exiled. God’s creation was seen as perfect and so any distortion was viewed as sin or a result of sin.
The Gospel pictures Jesus as the “new priest” or “public nurse” who wills to touch, heal, and return a leper to the community. Jesus tells the man to observe the ritual practice of his Jewish tradition by showing himself to the priests.
The now-clean man goes off and spreads the news about Jesus. A strange reversal takes place then. The man returns to his home village, while Jesus, because of the publicizing of the cleansing “remained outside in deserted places and people kept coming to him from everywhere.” Jesus continues putting himself outside and against the power of the Law. He is raising the tension between himself as the Priest of God and the priests of the same Law.
These days there are many “camps” or factions who seem to be dedicated to one thing and dedicated against all others; “ins” and “outs” “us” and “them” seem to be the operating labels. I was attending recently a conference at which there were people gathered to protest our existence. Riding in from the airport, a fellow attendee and I were surrounded in the van by some of the arriving protesters. By their conversation, we knew who they were, but they did not know who we were.
We began asking them questions about their protest. I began feeling “unclean” by the violence and terrible person I was by belonging to such a group against which they were dedicated.
Jesus came to include. Sin divides; our sins and those of others perpetuate alienation. Physical disfigurement or mental disturbance is not necessarily caused by sin. Jesus came to save us from sin and hopefully, from sinning. He did not come as the “Public Nurse” to eradicate physical illness, but heal us from the sinful attitudes and actions resulting from our encounters with what we perceive as "not normal." Jesus' attitude towards the leper and his healing touch form the invitation to us who follow him. He looks at our disformities with the same compassion as he had towards the leper and asks us to have compassion on ourselves as well. He invites us back into his “camp” which is a movement rather than a place.
This movement is outward, inclusive, and compassionate towards the “them” or “others” who have been sinned against. There are many forms of leprosy around us and we who have had our refigurement in Jesus are missioned by the Word and the Eucharist to extend his healing touch.
The “avoided” of our vision are the “inviters” of our mission. The lepers of our times are the poor, those who speak another language; the HIV infected person, the pregnant teenager, and all those whom we label as “Them.” Jesus saved the “them” by renaming them “us.”
“They ate and were filled; the Lord gave them what they wanted - they were not deprived of their desire.” Psalm 78
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