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In our Gospel this weekend, we read the story of a healing of a leper. Now at the time of Jesus, leprosy was a terrible curse. It was a disfiguring and crippling disease. There was no cure for it, and since people didn’t know how it was spread, lepers were forced to live apart from others in isolation and loneliness. Thus, the leper in our Gospel today took a great risk in even approaching Jesus. Yet we are told that “A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said: ‘If you wish, you can make me clean.” We are then told that “Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him and said to him, ‘I do will it. Be made clean.’” The leper was cleansed. Jesus told him to tell no one and to go show himself to the priests so that they could certify that he was no longer a leper. Instead of remaining quiet, however, the leper went off and began to “publicize the whole matter.”
There are three things to note in this Gospel. First, the leper came to Jesus in complete honesty and clear desperation. He knew he needed Jesus, and his request conveyed his raw, naked need. Second, Jesus knew the leper needed to be healed, but he also knew he lived apart and alone in isolation without any human contact. I believe it is for this reason that Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. Jesus knew that he needed human contact as much as he needed to be healed. Third, I believe the leper went and publicized his healing after Jesus told him to tell no one because he had been touched in a profound way by God’s grace. When this has happened to us we just can’t keep it to ourselves.
Our first reading this weekend provides the background for our Gospel. It is taken from the Book of Leviticus and it details how lepers were to be dealt with. They were to make their abode “outside of camp,” and they were to cry out “unclean, unclean” when someone approached. To understand this treatment it is helpful to remember that at that time illness or hardship were believed to be the result of sin. Something bad happened to you because you had sinned.
In our second reading we continue to read from the first letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians. In the section we read today, Paul reminds people to “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Have you ever approached Jesus in prayer with the raw need of the leper?
- Jesus knew that the leper needed to be healed, but he also knew he desired simple human contact. He offered the leper both. Has Jesus ever given you something you didn’t realize you needed?
- What is one concrete thing you can do to imitate Christ?