Hansen’s disease (leprosy) was one of the most dreaded and rampant diseases in Ancient Israel. It made the sufferers unclean – unfit to participate in the social and liturgical life of the nation. For fear of contagion, therefore, the victims were isolated from the rest of the community. They carried a stigma, with little love or acceptance, and no enjoyment of ordinary human companionship. They were completely stripped of their human dignity! Leprosy causes the rotting of one’s extremities – nose, lips, fingers, toes, etc., It also discharges an utterly revolting smell. Beyond Hansen’s disease, however, the people of those days also applied the term “leprosy” to all manner of contagious skin conditions – acne, ringworm, eczema, scabies, etc. – anything that causes sores, skin blotches, scabs, and face eruptions. Anyone suffering any of those was effectively an outcast.
As the First Reading indicates, lepers were prohibited by law from coming within a hundred yards of healthy people and, so, they had to shout, “Unclean, unclean!” to alert others. Tragically, their isolation meant that lepers were often left to die a slow, painful, and humiliating death. And to make matters worse, leprosy was seen in those days to be a sign of God’s punishment – a consequence of sin. That is why theologians view sin as a kind of spiritual leprosy. Like leprosy, sin disfigures the human soul, and, like metastatic cancer, it spreads into every corner of one’s existence. Sin distorts our spiritual orientation and degrades our ability to relate with other people. Sin derails our purpose in life and diminishes our capacity for a fruitful and joyful life here on earth, just as it jeopardizes our transition to the eternal bliss of heaven. Just as leprosy starts small but spreads and grows, so one seemingly insignificant sin can easily become a spark that snowballs into a massive fire. Therefore, we are lepers in so far as we live in sin!
In today’s Gospel, Jesus cures the leper by touching him. He could have just commanded the disease to go away because, given that he many other miracles with a simple word. He did not have to touch the leper, and it was even against the Jewish law to do so. Jesus did not need to touch the rotten flesh of this repugnant, smelly outcast. But that is exactly what he does! Our Lord goes beyond what is strictly necessary, because he wants to show us how his love knows no boundaries. By touching this leper Jesus makes the point that his love supersedes religious formalism or external ritualism. No human condition, not even sin, can make him love us less.
Jesus touched that leper for our sake, just as he suffered the scourging, the crowning with thorns, the way of the cross, and his brutal crucifixion for our sake. He knows how much we struggle to trust him, to come to him with our sin and brokenness, and that’s why he reaches out to touch us no matter our situation. The Lord so much desires to touch us today and every day, to heal and to give us a fresh start, but we need to let him in. We must need to first acknowledge our leprous situation for his touch to achieve its desired efficacy. None of our hidden situations can surprise or repel him for he knows us too well and he loves us unconditionally.
Dear friends, the rebellion of Adam and Eve made us all lepers of sin but through Christ we are redeemed and given access to divine grace through the Church and the sacraments. As Jesus reaches out to us, his divine touch helps us to overcome the many leprous conditions affecting humanity today – ignorance, unfaithfulness, hatred, division, addictions, etc. Jesus’ loving touch helps us fight self-centredness, self-indulgence, and self-absorption. It helps us to overcome all our selfish and “selfie” attitudes. It builds bridges, unites communities, and softens hearts. It counteracts depression and relieves anxiety.
Jesus’ touching and healing of the leper is much more than just another miracle. It is a revelation of his entire mission. He is the Lord, Redeemer, and Saviour – the one who comes into this fallen, sin-infected world to cleanse and renew it with his grace and love. That is what he is longing to do for each of us today. He comes not to condemn but to save us. He destroys the leprosy of sin and brings us back into communion with each other and with God. That is why he instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Through this ministry of Divine Mercy, Jesus is waiting and calling us to come and receive his healing touch. Please, let us accept this invitation today. And let us rest assured that no sin or other unpleasant condition can withstand his almighty touch.
The same Jesus has chosen to stay as close to us as he was to that leper, by giving us the Eucharist. In every Catholic Church, he is truly present in the Tabernacle – body, blood, soul, and divinity. This is what red sanctuary lamp reminds us! When we go by any Catholic Church, Jesus is calling to our hearts just as he called out to the heart of the leper. He will not force his way into our hearts, but he is always inviting us into his own heart. He earnestly wants us to come up close to him, kneel in front of him, and pour out all our miseries, addictions, frustrations, hardships, confusions, and needs. When we cry out like the leper in today’s Gospel: “Lord, if you want, you can make me whole”, we can be confident that he will give the same answer that he gave to the leper: “Of course I want to!” Therefore, we pray that the Holy Spirit may help us to recognize our spiritual poverty and leprosy, and to approach Jesus for his healing touch. Amen!