Have you been touched by Jesus? We are all have spiritual leprosy … in that we are all sinners. The leper in our moving Gospel passage today is a model of faith, prayer and our human condition of sin.
Under Mosaic law, lepers were declared unclean after diagnosed by the priest. They were considered ritually unclean, couldn’t participate in worship and became social outcasts, living separated and in isolation outside the community. They were regarded as “already dead”. Imagine yourself in this scene. Picture yourself as the leper. How would you feel, approaching the popular Jesus with the fawning crowd as an outcast from society and doomed – stinking, ruffled hair, torn garments. Do we have similar people in our midst today? Surely we do - the homeless, the extremely poor in our country and throughout the world. Imagine the embarrassment, extreme need, desperation, and humiliation you would experience, as this man did. Imagine the incredible joy to be touched – and healed, by Jesus! A new body! A new life!
Every story, every event in the Bible is meant to teach us about ourselves and about who God really is. The Church Fathers, such as St. Augustine, have regarded Jesus healing of the leper as a sign of our healing from sin – where we too are touched by Jesus in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We are all spiritual lepers! This leper provides a spiritual model for us – his faith and confidence in Jesus is evident in his statement, “if you will, you can make me clean”. What a beautiful prayer for us to say daily! He recognized Jesus’ divinity, for he was asking for a miracle. We too must have faith in Jesus to be healed of our sins in confession. Jesus always required an act of faith from the person he was about to heal. The leper trusted in God’s mercy and the Lord’s mercy is evident, as Jesus was “moved with pity”. The Lord takes pity on us and saves us through Jesus victorious suffering on the cross. The leper obviously confessed his own condition of need for healing (he couldn’t heal himself) as we must recognize we have sinned and need forgiveness. How many spiritual lepers today do not recognize their condition! How many could be healed, as the leper, in confession to a priest, whom Christ acts through today! Such an act of faith and confession of need requires humility on our part, which is that honest self-knowledge of our weakness, sinfulness and also God’s omnipotence and love. It is only through the humble admission of our need that Jesus will reach out and touch us. The leper’s humility is evident from the fact he knelt and even “fell on his face”, before Jesus and acknowledged his brokenness. (Cf. Lk. 5:12) Finally, we see Jesus, “stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I will; be clean.’” Is this not what happens to us when Christ touches us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation? (Just as lepers were considered “already dead” – their condition was terminal … so too we can be alive bodily but “spiritually dead” in serious sins.) It was unthinkable for a Jew to touch a leper, yet Jesus does so here to manifest His authority, power and holiness, as the source of life and healing. What must it have been like to be TOUCHED? This leper had probably not felt a human hand in years.
While we must receive the healing touch of Christ, we are also called to be “another Christ” to those around us and touch their lives with love and compassion and kindness. How many in our midst today require our “touch”… our making Christ present through our genuine compassion, encouragement, enlightenment and welcoming support? The inner reality of cleansing from sin is manifested in the outward healings of Christ. This should encourage us, because if Jesus can heal leprosy, he can certainly heal our souls from sin! This is the “good news”, that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ! Sin separates us from our true selves and from one another. The leper wanted to thank God and spread the word to others… so should we also! As the leper ran off to be restored to the Israelite community, so too are we restored to our true selves and united to the Body of Christ, the Church, when we repent of our sins, like the leper. Sin is spiritual leprosy. Both sin and leprosy separate from the community of life and destroy us from within. Both are contagious and spread to others – the more we sin, the less sensitive we are to it! Who do we know, who are separated from the Church? Are there divisions in our families? Jesus comes to heal the spiritual leprosy of greed, lust, violence, isolation, neglect of the poor, broken families, and the rejection of morality and God’s love and truth. Once we experience this healing touch of Christ, we are called to be “another Christ” to effect healing in the world around us.
Fr. Damian of Molokai, missionary to the lepers of Hawaii in the late 19th century, descended into the lepers' colony of Molokai -- then considered, "the cemetery and hell of the living" -- and from the first sermon embraced all those unfortunate people saying simply: "We lepers." And to the first sick person who said, "Be careful, Father, you might get my disease" he replied, "I am my own, if the sickness takes my body away God will give me another one." Fr. Damian understood well that we are all spiritual lepers, in need of God’s merciful, healing love. He died, contracting the deadly disease in the course of his sacrificial love and service of others. Fr. Damian died as His Master, Christ died – in sacrificial love for us. May we allow ourselves to be touched by Our Lord, so we may be healed of our spiritual leprosy, and so touch others with that same healing love that only comes from God. Peace+ DDG