We today have little exposure to the disease known as Hansen’s Disease or leprosy. Indeed, there is some reason to believe that the ancients had less contact than we would be led to believe by the stories.
Given the limited medical knowledge of the Hebrews, leprosy was attached to any physical blemish, any disfigurement. Thus it was a mark upon the body, or upon anything for that matter, that was indelible, not going away.
In Leviticus, Moses is advised by God how to deal with lepers, how they are to be excluded, kept apart and the leper must identify himself as such to all who come near.
As we know, in those times, physical illness or disease was associated with sin. This whole concept is played out in Job, where his friends are convinced that Job must indeed be sinful in order to be given such suffering.
We can look upon the reading in Leviticus and we can quickly see that analogies can be drawn to our lives today. We of course no longer avoid and look upon as sinful, those who suffer physical disease of any sort. At least we proclaim that we do not. It is of course still a question as to whether we look away and avoid those who have AIDS, or those who are homeless and alcoholic or drug addicted. Perhaps, I spoke too soon.
And we of course also avoid drawing a parallel between disease and sin. We understand disease as an ailment of the body, having nothing to do with the heart or the relative goodness or lack of it, of the victim. Or do we?
Jesus’ answer is unequivocal as he heals without a single question, the leper who begs his help. There is not examination of his thoughts, beliefs or life before Jesus undertakes the cure. He simply reaches out and effects the cure.
And what of that? By touching the leper, he has committed the act of making himself “unclean” as well. He has become as the leper, and in doing so he demonstrates that there is no sin and no shame in the condition. He separates physical disfigurement from the habits of the soul.
And in doing so, Jesus forces us to look at ourselves, for we must now face the real fact that sin is not always apparent. It is not something visible we can see, it can and is hidden. And that means that we too may be harboring secret sin; sin we have not looked for, let alone confronted and dealt with.
The fallacy that sin is something easy to locate and define, confronts us, and we are humbled.
We are further humbled by Jesus’ willingness to take that public abhorrence upon himself and show it for what it is.
We, as lepers ourselves, unknowingly separate ourselves from God. Yet we too have only to reach out and ask for healing, for that transforming touch that will restore us to health in our souls. As the leper did, so can we do. But first we must accept our dis-ease, and seek renewal.
In a few weeks, we will begin that annual time of seeking to uncover our infirmities and to seek forgiveness and restoration. It is not too soon to begin the journey.
- “People came to Jesus from every quarter” (worryisuseless.wordpress.com)
- Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (prepareformass.wordpress.com)
- Lectio Divina (seedsofcommunion.wordpress.com)
- The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B: February 12, 2012 (prayerbookguide.wordpress.com)
- 2/12/2012 Make Me Clean (richbrownforewords.wordpress.com)