Being a leper in the time of Jesus was to live an inhuman existence. The leper was forced, by law, to live a life of isolation, alienation, desolation, suffering and sorrow. The leper was forbidden to participate in community activities. She/he was not allowed to take part in religious ceremonies. The worship of the Temple was not the lepers experience. They were treated as a nonperson. The closest they were able to come to The Temple was the village of, wait for it, Bethany. Bethany means “the town” of “the lowly". (Do you recall WHO it was that hung out in Bethany?) There they were able to gaze on that, which they were unable to enter, and participate in it's celebrations. The leper was forced, then, to live in the waste lands. Cut off from family and friends. Their life was a life of quiet desperation.
I wonder whether it was that desperation that drove the leper of the Gospel to approach Jesus. In another Gospel episode Jesus encounters a band of lepers. They had each other, this leper had no one. He was on his own. Being alone would only add to the feelings of isolation and alienation. What was that source of the strength, belief that moved him to not only approach Jesus, but to word his inner belief in the Word in front of him? “If you wish, you can make me clean." It is one thing to express a wish and another thing to have to wait for a response to the request. What were the heartfelt feelings of the leper? Maybe, "He is my only chance for a new life and a new way of living", or "Will He end my hellish existence, so I can rejoin my family and friends?". What a feeling of relief it would be, to be able to see people, approach them freely, and not have to cry out "unclean, unclean?"
Now imagine what went on in that man's heart as he looked on Him of Whom he made his desperate request? What was it like to have to wait for a response? Can we ever come close to grasping the surprise which overwhelmed him, as he saw Jesus raise up His arm and did, the unthinkable. As Jesus stretched out His arm he must have thought,
“He is stretching out His arm and I am going to receive a blessing. That will be just another disappointment. What can I really expect, I am cursed, am I not? Do we not believe this
disease, in fact any disease, is a way God communicates His disapproval of a person. It is true I am, so cursed. What is this is He reaching out to touch me? He must be nuts? does He not know the penalty that goes with touching a leper? This guy is supposed to be a rabbi, a teacher of the law, yet it looks like He is going to break the law? Boy is He going to suffer for this. Wait until the Scribes, and Pharisees hear about this. He is toast." Yet the arm kept on coming, and coming, and finally, Jesus touched Him. Wow!! How must have the crowd be stunned? Jesus’ concern was for the human being in front of Him, and his human needs.
When was the last time this leper experienced the touch of another human being? How often would he have settled, just for that human touch? There came, to him immediately, more than the acceptance of a touch. There came to him, something beyond explanation. He began to feel so completely different. His scabbed skin began to change, it began to glow with new life. Where there were the stumps of toes, and fingers, new growth suddenly appeared. He became a new man. He is again united with his fellow human beings. He is now able to enter The Temple and participate in liturgical worship. This is the beginning of a whole new life of freedom for him. That is the good news. There are however two sides to every story. Because of this freeing action, there were consequences for the Liberator.
When Jesus, The Liberator, freed the leper, He, as it were took his place. Jesus in that touching of the leper Himself became the outcast. In that act of touching, He surrendered His freedom. He became as it unfree, so another could be free. This was a foreshadowing of Him surrendering His life, so we could have the fullness of life. In the field of checks and balances God's way makes no sense. Are we not warned though, "God's ways are not our ways". His way of loving always leaves us speechless. He, becoming an outcast. WOW!!!!, is all one can say. "Wonder of wonders" how mysterious, how incomprehensible, what passionate love our God has for us? As it was, so it is, and ever shall be. Where do I encounter the leper within?
This Gospel, I suggest, is God's Valentine's card. This Gospel episode paints a wonder-full picture of the passionate, unconditioned love of our Father God. Jesus is not constrained by the accepted law of that time. His response to the leper was guided by a new law, the law of compassionate, merciful, love. This was a love that was triggered by the human response of The Man Jesus to a human need. First came the feelings of pity, then the power of The Divinity was manifested. The miracle happened.
This is getting real long. Hopefully it will come to an end next week, as the pity of God, in the mission and ministry of Jesus is reflected on.