Those who host dinner-parties and those who are hosted experience three separate time-zones. For each there is the preparing. The host/hostess ponders the guest list, the menu, the seating arrangement and decorations. The invitees respond to the invitation, decide what to wear, perhaps what to bring and just sometimes, at what hour they would like to leave.
The second time-zone is the dinner itself with its various experiences of food, conversation, and other delightful interactions. The third zone is in a way the most important one, which is the “processing” or reflecting upon the evening by both the host/hostess and the departed guests.
This “afterness” or fruitfulness is the important consequence by which the social experience is extended into the future. The Eucharistic meal has the same three time-zones. We are invited from our pasts, to a present-time offering of a most intimate exchange and then all are sent to reflect what was celebrated.
We prepare for the celebration of Christ’s offering of Himself by our reflecting upon and then reflecting in our life-experiences His embrace of us in how we embrace life’s other invitations.
When reading the entire chapter from which our First Reading is taken for this liturgy, one becomes aware of there being many forms of leprosy. The reading of this chapter resembles a medical-school text on skin diseases. Scabs, boils, blotches, sores, ulcers and various facial and bodily skin disfigurings form a major section. There are also descriptions of leprosy of clothing and walls of the house. There are ritual practices for the discovery of the diseases and for their purifying.
For the Hebrew people, (and we say this too), “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” The purity of God was reflected in the purity or clean-appearance of the body and everything else. There was much placed on washing of hands and feet, foods and dishes. The most natural of human actions had their accompanying rituals of expressing how far from God the human person stands.
The Gospel continues the little stories of Jesus the Healer. According to the levitical practice, this diseased man should not have been approaching Jesus. They are both outside the town, the leper by law, Jesus by choice. The man “came” to Jesus and made a profound act of faith. “If you wish you can make me clean.” Jesus then, “touched” (imagine that) touched the unclean human while saying, “I do will it. Be made clean.” The leprosy left him immediately! The humanity remained with its fallen uncleanness, but the work of Jesus is the embrace of and not the angelizing of the human.
The cleansed man fulfills the ritual prescriptions and goes off into the town to find the priest and present proof of his healing. He began spreading the good news, instead of spreading leprosy. He had been told to say nothing except to the priests. Jesus on the other hand, remained outside which is where He could encounter those who were also cast-outs and unwanted.
Lady Macbeth remains washing the spot from her hand after more than four centuries. Most of us relate with her by our reaching for similar spot removers ourselves. Jesus did not take away the memory of the leper’s having been a disgrace and outsider. The man had to live, perhaps, with a nickname,”leppy” or “Skin-man”. Perhaps he had to live with some shame or regrets about his having been ill or this terrible thing having been done to him.
Jesus touches us in the very condition we wish we were not. Wincing is a reaction we have to past stupidities, mistakes, embarrassings and other hard human things. I squinch my eyebrows and try to wish this or that away. I have great memories about my personal ungreatnesses. It is helpful to both remember them, because they are real, but also to remember that Jesus’ “I will it. Be clean”, is still His basic stance and He doesn’t wince. The leper can never pretend he wasn’t unclean. Our belief in Jesus removes the spots of darkness and the pretenses of our being angelic. Jesus continues standing next to us when we choose to go outside, because we cannot stand ourselves. That, right there, is our twenty-first century form of leprosy and He still waits to grace it.
“They ate and were filled; the Lord gave them what they wanted-they were not deprived of their desire.” Ps. 78, 29-30
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