“The one who bears the sore of leprosy
shall keep his garments rent and his head bare,
and shall muffle his beard;
he shall cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean!’
As long as the sore is on him he shall declare himself unclean,
since he is in fact unclean.
He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.” (Lv 13:45-46)
Can you imagine, for the remainder of your life, warning people away from you? What an awful way to have to live. Yet, that is exactly what the people afflicted with leprosy had to do during the time of Christ. Leprosy was such a virulent disease that contact with another who had it practically ensured that you would get it as well.
Not only would a person be forced to stay away from family and friends but, more often than not, the one who had leprosy lived with others so afflicted. That person would have to watch others go through the terrible stages of the disease until they died. No longer able to be with family and friends and being forced to live with others in the same condition was not only a sad way but a wretched way to live.
Thankfully, leprosy is a condition that can be treated in today’s world. It is no longer the death sentence that it used to be. It no longer forces a person to flee from family and friends. It no longer mandates that someone with the disease keep others away.
In the day of the Lord, today’s medicine miracle did not exist. They needed to rely upon another miracle. In the Gospel for today’s Mass, we hear about an exchange between Jesus and a leper: “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, [Jesus] stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.”
The fact that Jesus would reach out and touch a leper was unheard of. Most people were mortally afraid of lepers. Yet Jesus’ compassion knew no bounds. Not only would he speak to the leper instead of running away, Jesus also gave the leper something that was missing in his life: the gift of a touch by another human.
While leprosy may be cured, we have many “lepers” in our society. We treat some people like lepers who have AIDS, others who are physically or mentally challenged, still others who are, in our own minds, of the “wrong” ethnicity, race, or religion. Jesus would reach out to all of these and come to their aid. Jesus would be very proud of us if we did the same.
FAITH ACTION: Pray for those who are ostracized by others. If this situation exists among your family or friends, do all that you can do to bring healing to the affected people.