In the time of Jesus, leprosy was just cause to banishing an individual to leper colonies, separating them from the rest of the community. Leprosy was a skin disease that made its victims unclean and therefore unfit to participate in liturgical celebrations, the center of the life of the community. Not only that, but any type of physical deformity or ailment was an indication of great sin and a curse from God. In addition, it was believed that anyone who even touched someone afflicted with leprosy was then also infected and made unclean. One afflicted with this condition was required to rip their clothes and announce their condition to the rest of the community if they were anywhere near others. You can imagine how leprosy isolated an individual in need from their loved ones, from the community, and from God. No one wanted to encounter a leper!
Jesus breaks through the barrier created by society and reaches out to the leper who approaches him asking for healing. What a dramatic experience for this man. Jesus then asks what must have been impossible. Jesus asks the man to not tell anyone. Can you imagine the difficulty he had containing the joy in his heart over being made clean? Not only could he now go back to his family, take part in community life, but his favor with God was now restored. Jesus didn’t raise him from the dead but in many ways it certainly felt that way for the leper.
Today, we know leprosy to be a bacterial infection, not spread through physical contact, and very treatable. Yet, there are still many individual circumstances in society which cause us to banish an individual from participation in community life. How many times have you walked away from an encounter with another person and declared, “wow, they’ve got issues” and chose to avoid them at all costs? Sadly, leper colonies still exist, banishing our loved ones from society. Just take a walk through the local nursing home and you will find people slumped over in wheelchairs, left alone, waiting to die. What about all those who keep a distance from our community events because they don’t feel welcomed or have been labeled and shunned?
All of us have “issues” which we need to approach Jesus with and seek out HIS healing touch. None of us are exempt from having some form of leprosy and none of us are denied HIS love in confronting what separates us from our family, friends, and community.
So, the next time you see someone standing at a distance or are tempted to label them with “issues,” remember the love in your heart and how Jesus heals you of your type of leprosy. Jesus can, if HE wills it, make all of us clean.