Our first reading outlines the Old Testament’s strict legal requirements for those suffering from skin diseases such as leprosy. Seen as ritually impure, highly contagious—a threat to the rest of the community—they were to present themselves to the priests who would declare them unclean and they would be cast out from the community, the town, removed from relationships with all others…they would, in a sense, be totally banished and isolated.
And so our gospel is filled with surprise:
- first, a leper approaches Jesus, threatening in one sense to make the master Himself ritually impure, as well as physically unclean/dirty/infected;
- The leper surprises us as he declares that he knows Jesus can heal him, restore his health and livelihood, bring him back into communion with all people, the Church…Jesus can give the man his life back.
And, not surprising to us, Jesus does just that. We hear him instruct the one He has restored to quietly show himself and offer to God according to Moses’ decree…yet the man does not. Filled with rejoicing, we can understand why he is exuberant, can’t we?
Imagine if you were set outside of communion with God and with all others for a period of time that is not only extensive but also indeterminate, that is to say, beyond your ability to correct or limit or control. Imagine, to put it bluntly, being an illegal immigrant. Or imagine being a despised ‘prostitute of ancient times’, or a hated minority or outcast. Yes, aren’t these conditions akin to the leper of our gospel?
St. Paul, in our second reading, encourages us to be—along with him—imitators of Christ Jesus. And so let us welcome all others as Christ does, disregarding difference/dis-ease/and accepting them as Christ accepts us. Thank the good Lord that all are welcome to come to Him, be touched and healed by Him, welcomed into the circle of love by Him!