Today’s first reading talks about how lepers in the past had to live apart from the rest of the community. This may seem very cruel but back then, there was no medication for leprosy and those with the disease were condemned to a lonely and slow death, partly to keep this health hazard away from the community. During the time of Jesus, there was no medication for leprosy. However, Jesus did not shun away from those who were outcast from the community, in spite of being looked as unclean by the others who might have seen Him interacting with the leper. Jesus does not run from us despite the ugliness we see in ourselves or that which others see in us.
Perhaps some of us may be thinking at this point of our life that we are unworthy, we did something beyond forgiveness, we are a “hopeless case” and cannot change. Today’s readings show us a beautiful image of God who does not turn away those who come to Him. The response to the leper’s cry “If you wish, you can make me clean.”, should comfort us in our sorrow, for Jesus Himself said “I do will it.”.
For some of us, we may be used to running and hiding from God in our shame like Adam did in Genesis, but we need to resist this temptation and come before God in humility, acknowledging our faults. For would God our Father who is abundant in mercy turn away one who comes to Him in humility? The example of Jesus in today’s Gospel gives us the answer we need and shows us the heart of the Father.
The testimony of one who hid not his faults from God our Father is evident in today’s responsorial psalm, for the psalmist said “Then I acknowledged my sin to you, my guilt I covered not. I said, “I confess my faults to the Lord,” and you took away the guilt of my sin.”. This experience of doing so made him cry out “I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation”.
It is also instinctive for us to draw closer to the people who make us feel comfortable and at home with, but how should we treat others who are different and say/do things that make us uncomfortable? As Catholics, we strive to model ourselves after the heart and mind of Jesus, approaching everyone with the tender love that He offers to each and every person. Jesus did not seek to distance himself from the leper, but rather “stretched out his hand” and “touched him”. According to Jewish customs, doing this would have rendered Jesus Himself unclean. In spite of the personal cost that He knew He would have to bear He did not fail to show the unconditional love for His neighbour that He commanded and often preached about.
Today, diversity is the only constant and we frequently encounter people who think, speak and behave differently from us. When we encounter someone who is different, do we seek to accept or to reject; to embrace or to shun; to unite or to alienate? In the Gospel today, Jesus’ work reunited the leper with the Jewish community, at the cost of having to separate Himself from the community that He called His own. Are we prepared to make the same sacrifice that Jesus bore, bearing the consequence of being like Christ, restoring the alienated back to the community? Following in the footsteps of Christ comes at the cost of being different, displaying radical love and compassion for those who are alienated, seeking inclusivity for them at our own expense.
In this time of the Covid-19 pandemic, while safe distancing is an imperative, let us not partake of “spiritual distancing”, constantly striving towards being one with Christ, our neighbours and ourselves.
Theodore Yzleman, Jordan Hong and Ryan