Did you know, that over 2000 years after this story takes place in the Gospel, despite all that modern medicine has to offer, we still have not developed a cure for leprosy? There are many different ways to treat leprosy, and to minimize its symptoms, but there is no way to cure it. Leprosy is one of the most terrible, deadly, and famous diseases in history. In fact, even some prominent figures in history have fallen ill with it. I was reading that they’re saying that it can even be spread to humans by armadillos! Seriously? It truly is a horrific disease. The extremities of the body, such as the hands, feet, and nose, slowly disintegrate, with prolonged agony throughout. And even worse, it is extremely isolating for its victims – partly because it is very contagious, but also because people can’t stand to look at someone with the disease.
So that’s why this story of healing that we hear in the Gospel is so incredible. It’s more than just one more miracle in a line of many for Jesus. It’s not like he was trying to expand his repertoire to get some more business. In fact, it’s more than just about him healing a disease. This miracle is a statement about his mission – of why he came and what he came to do. Just as much as Jesus was willing to go into this leper’s presence, touch him, and then heal him, so Christ is the one who comes into this sin-infected world and cleanses it, giving us all a new start. Ultimately, what this story shows us is that Christ is not here to condemn or to isolate, but to save.
Now I doubt there is anyone here today who has leprosy, but in many ways, I think we all suffer from the leprosy of sin, whether it be from selfishness, the things we fail to do for others, or an addiction to sinful habits. Sin is just as horrible as any disease, because like leprosy, it takes what is so beautiful about us – our generosity, our love for others, among other things – and slowly and painfully disintegrates them. It transforms us from who we were made by God to be into ugly, disfigured, and agonizing versions of ourselves. We become turned in on ourselves, only willing to take care of our own needs and wants, and we become isolated from everyone else. And then ultimately, we lose sight of that virtue of charity – the love of God teaching us how to love – and we forget how we are supposed to love ourselves, others, and even God. Sin truly is a terrible thing. And it should appall us. We probably find that we have a particular “sin of choice” that we find ourselves struggling with over and over again. But sometimes, we fail to identify it right away, and like a disease, we allow it to transform us and isolate us.
So how does this fit in with today’s Gospel? Well, I think each of us are called to imitate this story in a number of ways. First, we should try to follow the example of Jesus. As Christians, we are called to be “Other Christs”, going out into our sinful world, and embracing others who are struggling, rather than condemning them. I was reading about a high school football game in Texas, between Gainesville State School and the Grapevine Faith Christian School. (Grapevine? Seriously? I wonder what their mascot is…) Grapevine, as its name suggests, is a private Christian school, but Gainesville State is a maximum-security prison for 285 teenage criminals. Now, if you’re going by records, Gainesville State wound up losing the game 33 to 14, finishing their season 0-9. I guess they didn’t play the Rams. But something changed with that game. In the words of one of the teachers from Gainesville, “The culture just switched.” And it happened because the students of Grapevine actually treated the students from prison like real people instead of outcasts. They formed a 40-yard spirit line for the Gainesville players to run through at the start of the game. They loaned the Gainesville State team their junior-high cheerleading squad. Even half of the Grapevine fans sat behind on the Gainesville sideline to cheer them on throughout the game. Something changed there, and today, the local residents near Gainesville State do their best to encourage the young men there. Now this might seem like a heartwarming story, and might make a great Hallmark movie or something, but that is what each of us are called to do. There are many of people struggling with different things in the Church, some of who feel rejected or estranged. And we are called to embrace, not condemn. Now that doesn’t mean that we stand back from what our faith believes and professes. It doesn’t mean that we ignore the sins of others or condone them. But it does mean that we see them as fellow lepers, like ourselves, in need of the healing touch of Christ, and we offer them the love and respect that all people deserve.
We are also called to follow the example of the leper in this story. As stated earlier, we are all sinners, and we all struggle with that spiritual leprosy. But we don’t celebrate this fact, we don’t revel in the fact that we’re sinners, but we seek together to find healing from the one who can give it. It would have really been a leap of faith for that man in the Gospel to approach Christ. He would be ignoring the laws of the society, as we hear in the first reading. And he probably would have been afraid that Jesus would draw back in horror. But yet, with great faith, he came and confessed his belief that Jesus could make him clean. We need to recognize our own spiritual leprosy as well. Christ invites us to come to him at any time in the sacrament of reconciliation, most especially during the season of Lent, which begins a week from Wednesday.
Today as we come forward to receive the precious Body and Blood of Christ, let’s imagine ourselves coming to Jesus just as that leper did. And as we acknowledge our own sinful nature, our own weakness, our own spiritual leprosy, then let us kneel humbly before the Lord and echoing those words of the leper, we say, “If you wish, Lord, you can make us clean.” May we always be given the grace we need to be healed, and to be another Christ for those around us.