As students of theology, we were sent to different ministries for experience during our summer vacation. We used to call it a summer exposure program. As oblate scholastics, we had the opportunity to explore a different kind of ministries like prison ministry, HIV and AIDS ministry, parochial ministry, youth ministries.
when I was doing my 1st year of theology, I was sent to work in the Leprosy Rehabilitation Centre for a month in Bengaluru, India. My main work was there to help the nurses to clean the wounds, ulcers and apply medication. It was painful and hard for me even to see the deep sores, ulcers, skin lesions, physical deformities and nursing them. What pained me during my stay with them was how they were treated by society – us. They were ostracized, expelled from homes and towns, they did not have a place to go, elderly parents were neglected, their children were not accepted in schools because of fear of transmission, scared to employ them, and were segregated from society. Imagine the pain these people would have to go through every day in their lives. it is no different from the time of Jesus. Leprosy was regarded as impure and understood as the punishment of God. The first reading gives us the background of the sad state of lepers in Palestinian society. When leprosy was identified in a man or woman, he or she had to live alone (Leviticus 13:46). Lepers were expelled from the city. Everywhere they went they had to shout out loud, “Unclean, unclean!” (Leviticus 13:45). The Talmud (the Jewish oral law) required that a leper had to stay six feet away from other people and 150 feet when there was the wind. According to the Mishnah, anyone who touched a leper, was near a leper, touched anything that a leper had touched, or entered his/her home was ceremonially unclean. As a result, the Jewish rabbis avoided lepers.
In this context, we are invited to read this passage of Jesus healing the leper. We can see how Jesus moved with compassion when he heard the cry of the leper, ‘’Lord, if You are willing, you can make me clean’’. He ignores the Mosaic Law prohibiting him from touching a leper, stretches out his hands, and touches him saying “I am willing; be cleansed.” Jesus’ compassion moved Him to act and do something for this man. He touches him and heals him. That leper was given a brand-new life at that very moment. Grant R. Osborne a theologian and New Testament scholar calls this act the ‘love hermeneutic’ that is the willingness to break Jewish taboos to help the suffering. We perceive Jesus’ willingness to touch and show compassion to all those who have been rejected, abandoned, and forgotten. As followers of Christ, we need to have this attitude of willingness: willingness to show compassion towards the outcast, abandoned, rejected, and forgotten. Like Jesus let us reach out and touch the poor and the needy in our midst. Besides, the Lord invites each of us to feel our own needs and to ask for his healing touch. Like the leper, may we turn to Jesus in faith and let our lives proclaim his gifts of mercy, forgiveness, and spiritual rebirth.
By Vijay Deivanayagam, OMI – Vocation Contact Central