Whom do we treat as “lepers”? … Peace & unity only increase when we reduce the “lepers” in our communities
Sometimes, to get the full impact of Biblical passages, we need to get the painful details that disturb our minds, and shock us into full attention to the lessons being communicated. William Barclay (The Daily Study Bible 1975), describes one variety of the 3 types of leprosy:
Nodular/ tubercular leprosy: it begins with lethargy/ pains in the joints; then, especially on the back, symmetrical discoloured skin patches; on them little nodules form, at first pink, then turning brown. The skin is thickened. The nodules gather especially on the cheek, nose, lips and forehead. The whole appearance of the face is changed till the man loses his human appearance and looks, as the ancients said, like a lion. The nodules grow larger and larger; they ulcerate and from them comes a foul discharge. The eye-brows fall out; the eyes become staring; the voice becomes hoarse and the breath wheezes because of the ulceration of the vocal chords. The hands and the feet also ulcerate. Slowly the sufferer becomes a mass of ulcerated growths. The disease lasts an average of 9 years, ending in mental decay, coma and ultimately death. The sufferer becomes utterly repulsive both to himself and to others.
The 1st Reading is now more understandable. At times, people need to be isolated for the good of the Community/ Family: such as the pandemic we’re living through right now. It can also be for bad behaviour: at School, naughty boys go stand in the corner;
for violent crimes, we go to jail; and, we go to bed without supper for disrespecting mum!
The time-out is not meant to be a death-sentence, but a time of healing and transformation. Unfortunately, some diseases cannot be healed: Ebola. At least, with COVID-19 there is hope after 14 days most people recover. So, we can truly appreciate the message in the 1st Reading.
Jesus, in the Gospel, is not undoing the instructions of Moses but, as usual, pushing us beyond the law, to respond with love. We are the hands and feet, the voice, eyes and ears of God.
Jesus did not avoid or hunt away the leper (not allowed to approached Jesus); but Jesus showed understanding and compassion to the man deprived of both his health and his community life. By touching the leper Jesus brought dignity and healing back to the man.
Jesus is teaching us to be active and take the initiative when we see people rejected by society. Jesus reveals the compassion of God who does not want us to suffer for ever. However, God wants to work through us, so that we know we are valuable and needed by God. In other words, we ourselves receive healing as we allow God to heal others through us.
Our acting youth chairman saw a hungry street man in Embu and responded by taking him to a small café and seated him near the door. Another man in the Café got upset and demanded he be ejected; and he was. The man was smelly and dirty, but not leprous!
To his credit (and our pride in him), the young man stood up and protested strongly to the Café manager, and took the tea and snack outside. I’m sure other patrons would have learned a lesson that day. Here we are, busy asking God to help us, while we disrespect God in the poor.
No doubt, it would have been unpleasant to sit near the man; however,
in gratitude for our better circumstances, could we not tolerate it for a little while? Every day, each of us meets opportunities: will we see Christ in them, or run away?
The example of Jesus challenges us to become more sensitive to who the “lepers” are, today. eg. a woman set fire to the house and the husband died. Sad though the husband’s family were, they also felt compassion for the wife. Pushed too far with no help, she just snapped. Despite the husband’s family requesting Police to release the wife, they refused. Now the baby has lost her dad and mum (to prison). But congrat’s to the husband’s family for trying.
The rich are sometimes so ignorant of history: as they allow the “leprosy” of poverty to infect more and more people, they create frustration and pain that leads to violence and destruction. The rich will lose their wealth – and probably their lives – and everyone will suffer even more.
Because what is imposed will eventually be rejected; God does not impose “transformation” on us, but invites each one of us to be part of the solution/ the process.
Can we stop for a moment and reflect on my wider community and think who is treated like a leper and ask “why”? Can we then think of ways to improve their situation(s)?
Because, like the effects of leprosy on the human body, when society deliberately isolates/ ignores, some of it’s members, it eventually becomes a cancer that hurts our whole society. But, if we have compassion for others, society will be healed and prosper even more.
By Gerard Conlan, OMI