6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Last winter, I visited a man named Jim at Upper Chesapeake Hospital.
Jim was seriously sick with a bacterial pneumonia. There was a “Do Not Enter – Report to the Nurses’ Station” sign on his door.
I was required to put on a hospital gown, a mask and gloves before entering his room. Jim’s wife and I approached his bedside and I leaned over and spoke to him for a minute or two, even though he was barely responsive.
Then, I led us in prayer and in the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. As I left, I took off the hospital gown, the mask and gloves and was instructed to wash my hands thoroughly.
I have to admit that I felt some anxiety about contracting the bacteria that had attacked Jim’s lungs. I also wondered how Jim was feeling emotionally, since he was so alone and so isolated.
That experience gives us some appreciation of the situation of lepers.
In Jesus’ day, they labeled as leprosy many skin diseases, whether they were real leprosy or simply something like psoriasis. Lepers were excluded, cut off and alienated from society.
Today’s first reading tells us that lepers had to shave their heads and wear torn clothes so that they could be easily identified and avoided. They had to live alone, outside the town and declare themselves “Unclean!” if anyone approached them.
They had to be feeling physically bad, at least to some extent. But probably worse than that was the pain of isolation, of being unwanted and cut off from others.
Jesus’ Response: To Feel and to Heal
This is the context for today’s gospel.
A leper dares to approach Jesus. With humility and trust, he says, “If you will it, you can make me clean.”
And how does Jesus respond? He feels and heals the pain of this man.
Jesus reaches out and touches him. His compassion – his feeling the pain of this man is so strong that he ignores the risk to himself and touches the man.
Jesus says, “I do will it. Be made clean.” And then Jesus tells the man to follow the rules of the day for being declared clean because he wants the man to be re-included and restored to the community.
And this is something that Jesus consistently does. He consistently feels and heals the pain of those on the outside, the excluded of his day.
We see him doing this with the poor, with women, with sinners and on it goes. He feels and heals the pain of those on the outside and draws them back into the community.
Our Response: To Feel and Heal
Jesus’ example calls us to do the same.
For example, there are homeless persons in Baltimore City and probably in every county of Maryland. Often we do not physically see them and the danger is that they can lie outside of our vision and concern.
They easily become lepers – unwanted, outside and alienated. Jesus’ example calls us to draw these people back into the community by reaching out and providing – to feel and to heal.
In terms of our Church, sometimes those who are divorced feel very excluded and unwanted. Sometimes our approach makes these persons feel like lepers.
We need to feel the pain that many of these people have suffered, often quite innocently. Jesus’ example again calls us to reach out and make sure these people feel welcome in our community – to feel and to heal.
I also think of those who are grieving. Sometimes we tend to step away from the widowed or anyone who is grieving.
Maybe we distance these persons because we are afraid we will not know what to say or afraid to deal with our own feelings. Again, Jesus’ example calls us to listen, to be with and to include – to feel and to heal.
So, a very powerful gospel with a very challenging example and lesson for us today.