The ancient Hebrews did not have the type of medical knowledge that exists today. So, when they saw people with any kind of skin diseases, they called it leprosy. Leprosy today might look like psoriasis or shingles.
Of course, there is real leprosy nowadays – Hansen’s Disease. But it is curable. Back then, leprosy was despised because it was so ugly and disfiguring. Lepers were seen as repulsive, unlovable and even perceived as evil. Leprosy came to be seen as divine punishment. They had no hope of receiving love. No hope of being accepted as people, or enjoying human companionship.
Laws were made to separate them from society. They were to live alone, make their dwelling outside the camp. And yet, this leper in the Gospel came to Jesus and knelt as he offered prayers. Why did he make such a taboo, forbidden move? Because he heard of Jesus’ power to heal.
He heard that Jesus cares about the ones no one else cares about. He heard that Jesus included the excluded. To the chagrin of the onlookers, the leper moved closer to Jesus. Ignoring the laws, Jesus reached out and touched the man. A healing touch and a healing word: “Be clean.”
In a place of isolation, Jesus offered companionship. In a place of rejection, He gave acceptance. In a place of disgust, He gave compassion. Have you ever felt the castaway experience? Feelings of guilt, loneliness, even shame and disgust at yourself?
The Gospel tells us that we can bring that dark and frightening side of ourselves to Jesus, because He embraces what others reject and touches what others shun. Jesus was taking a great risk in reaching out and touching that young man. He was breaking every rule in the book, both civil and religious.
But compassion made Jesus cross that forbidden line of convention and law. There was great risk in this. Why did He touch the man? He could have healed him from a distance, as He did with the 10 lepers Luke tells us about.
My guess is that He touched him because he needed to be touched; needed to feel human contact; human kindness. It was a very human thing to do, and Jesus humanized His religion.
By the time the story ends, the leper goes off into the company of other people. Jesus, though, takes the place of the leper. Having touched the leper, He could no longer go into the town openly. He was now seen as unclean and under the sentence of exclusion. Truly, He has taken upon Himself our infirmities.
All of us at some point or another need to be like the leper and ask for healing. And I think the message of our Gospel is that we are all lepers in one way or another.
But my friends, do not be afraid to cry your tears. Because Jesus will always come.