Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1
When people in this society use the word “leper” they are ordinarily referring to a person who has been rejected by society for some reason. They are not speaking about someone who has Hansen’s disease. In fact, those with the disease prefer that the word “leper” not be used when referring to them.
In Jesus’ time, leprosy was a disease more feared than any other. Actually, the word was used to describe a variety of skin diseases—all of which were considered extremely contagious. The greatest burden was the law that excluded lepers from society. If ever a leper were cured he had to submit himself to a complicated ceremony that would restore him to the community.
The cure of leprosy was considered one of the messianic signs. It is not difficult to see the point that is being made in today’s Gospel—Jesus has the power to save even those who are excluded from Israel by the Mosaic Law. Jesus’ actions were incredible to the people of his time. The lepers were breaking the law by even approaching the Lord. Still, he allowed it. Despite the fears of the community, he touched the leper and—to fulfill the law—sent the leper to fulfill the ceremony that would reunite him to the community.
Jesus told the leper “to tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest…” Scripture scholars are divided about what Jesus’ concern might be. Was it concern that he would be beleaguered by others who wanted his help? (And, of course, that was what happened) Or, as other scholars suggest was Jesus suggesting that the most important thing at this moment was to unite the leper to the community?
We tend to reject people because they are different in some way or other - too fat, too short, of a different race, culture, creed, gender or speak a different language. They become the “lepers” in our society. Jesus rejected no one. Our faith urges us to identify with Christ in caring for those who, in our society today, are rejected for whatever reason.
Most of the things that exclude us from the community today are not immediately apparent. Of itself, alienation is not a stigma that has a physical manifestation. Hurt feelings do not erupt into blemishes and no cosmetic can conceal the deepest wounds of one's heart. Yet, the Lord sees what keeps us apart and uses us as instruments to call others into communion with him.
Today's liturgy calls us to one another. It challenges us to be sensitive to those who are isolated and in pain. It moves us to proclaim, as the leper did, the story of our own coming to the Lord and the tales of the many times he has drawn us to him through other people.
We know that there are areas of our life that beg for healing. Like the leper, we know that we can be healed. We need not even ask. We need only walk into the outstretched arms of the Lord who is eagerly awaiting our approach.