Be careful, it’s highly contagious! Surely, we take the caution seriously as we are sensitive to microbes and viruses. But are we also careful enough so that such legitimate mechanism to protect ourselves doesn’t become a tool of exclusion? In a scandalous gesture to the leper Jesus has something to tell us.
Bible Readings Leviticus 13: 1-2, 44-46 Psalm 32: 1-2, 5, 11 1 Corinthians 10: 31-11: 1 Marc 1: 40-45
Why all such details?
In times of epidemics there are cautions of hygiene that we need to observe. When we fail to do so, we risk not only our own life but we become a danger also to others. In the history of many cultures we find practices of hygiene put in place in order to contain the spread of diseases like leprosy. In the first reading we find one example.
The book of Leviticus is full of detailed rules of conduct regarding both moral and physical health. Certainly, it’s not the most exciting reading you can find! But the effort invested in putting down such details just reveals the importance and the seriousness attached to observing both physical hygiene and religious purity. While such attention is recommendable, however, isn’t there also a danger of drifting from the initial spirit of such rules?
Losing sight of a human person
We see it in the Bible, and also in our contemporary world, where a law is enacted with best intention but in a course of time it degenerates into something else in the manner it’s observed. In the name of respecting the law we become cold and inhuman in our interactions. We end up respecting the law at the expense of the human person. Indeed, how many times does Jesus denounce such drifting? At one time he hits with strongest words and at another he just acts in a manner that’s not only revolutionary but scandalous too. That’s what we find in this Sunday’s Gospel.
He touched a leper
The leper, at that time, was an untouchable and was excluded from society. It’s of course in the spirit of containing the disease but also to avoid the spiritual impurity that was associated with it. Unfortunately, a leper ended up being socially as good as dead –very little to do with other persons (cf. 28th Sunday C. Lepers: Good-mannered heretic). It’s in the midst of such strict rules regarding the interaction between a leper and healthy persons that something eyebrow-raising happens. Jesus touches a leper.
Firstly, it’s like the leper sees in Jesus a rabbi quite different from all others, which gives him the confidence to defy the restriction, and thus, to approach him with a request: “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Jesus, even though he can do it, does not give a remote-controlled response. He goes further than saying: “I do choose. Be made clean!” For Jesus is the incarnation of God’s maternal love; he’s full of compassion for this human person who, by mere disease of the skin, has been reduced to something worse than an outcast –dehumanised. That’s why what’s important for Jesus is not just the healing of the skin, but to make person feel he’s part of the human community. He’s not a leper but a human person, a brother; who suffers from leprosy. “Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him….” Scandalous! Jesus did that not just out of despise for the law but in order to place it, and all rules regulating social life, in the proper perspective –to help people live and interact humanly.
Not for lesson, but for introspection
In today’s world where private life is enthroned higher than the “Decalogue” no lesson is tolerated. And here Jesus does not give us one either. He simply performs a gesture which, however, can’t leave us indifferent; we are simply moved to pose ourselves questions of introspection regarding our attitudes towards certain persons.
Aren’t there times when in the name of taking precaution I have abandoned a fellow human being in the cold? Think of the different types of lepers in your life, those with whom your interaction is barred by prejudices; think of those whom you despise and don’t see yourself in respectful relations with them. And then, Jesus who stretches out his hand to touch a leper; doesn’t he inspire you also to stretch out your field of friendship? Indeed, by this gesture Jesus leaves us to understand one thing.
To love is to dare!
Between a sheer observance of the law and a human person; the choice of Jesus is clear –the human person comes first. He refuses that tranquillity that prevents him from being the image of the loving Father. In Jesus is the face of God who comes to encounter humanity, even in his leprosy of sin. Similarly for us, in order to love we need to dare. However, there’s a choice to make.
You choose a quiet life where you conform to what everyone is doing, thereby disturbing no one –and so become lukewarm Christian; or you can choose to be a Christian who dares even to disturb in order to act more humanly and according to the demands of the Gospel.
Happily, we have contemporary roles models
Pope Francis is one of them. No doubt, his pontificate is eventful, at times even hair-raising. He breaks the rules and the protocols by his simple, spontaneous acts but rich in love and in humanity –a disciple of Jesus indeed!
And you, are you ready to dare and have a go at loving like Jesus?
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