Internal Leprosy, a Homily

Homily, Feb 10&11-18, Cyc B, 6th Sun of Ordinary time, Leper

Our readings open today with the OT Book of Leviticus giving us insight into dealing with leprosy at that time. It was truly the scourge of the Jews. We could even compare it to our present-day concerns over cancer or heart disease.

The book of Leviticus says that anyone with a skin eruption or scab was to go to the priest. If the priest decided it was leprous he declared the person unclean and set in motion other protocols about how they were to behave.

Why the priests? The priests in those days did more than offer sacrifices for the people. They were also the Public Health Officers of their day. I mentioned to Msgr that as I got older more skin spots appeared on me, did he want to inspect them. He said, “no no, you must have an MD after your name to do that today.”😊

Leprosy in Biblical times was a terrible thing. While it described what is known today as Hanson’s disease, the word probably included other skin diseases as well and you could not always tell them apart. Hence, the need for isolation to give them a chance to dry up if they were not leprosy.

The only way they could deal with it was through isolation of the person from the rest of the community to keep it from being spread. Unlike today where we receive care and healing from the medical profession and support from family and friends. In OT times, isolation was all that was available to them.

When you think about it, isolation, while protecting the rest of the community, was brutal for the person with leprosy.

They had to leave their homes, leave their families, and were forced to live on the outskirts of towns with other lepers. They had to keep their garments rent, heads bare, beards muffled, crying out “Unclean, unclean” when approached by others, devoid of the care and consolation of family and friends.

What a hopeless existence.

It is that background that leads us into the Gospel today where we hear that as Jesus approached a town, a leper ran out ahead of Him, kneeling he ask to be made clean if Jesus wanted to. We are told that Jesus was moved with pity and said, “I do want to, be made clean.”

Jesus did not see so much the unclean leper or his disease. He was not so much concerned with the strict prohibitions of Jewish society. He saw a human soul in desperate need. He reached out His hand and healed him with His touch.

Unfortunately, the man was so happy He was cured that he ignored Jesus’ admonition to tell no one; he told everyone. As a result, Jesus was unable to enter a town openly because the people were overwhelming Him as a healer and miracle worker and not listening to His message.

Today, we all suffer from time to time with serious illnesses. The way it usually plays out is we become symptomatic and go to our doctor. He prescribes some treatment that sounds like it will go on for a long time with medications, maybe operations, or maybe procedures.

The first thought that strikes us when we hear the doctor’s prognosis and plan is, “Oh Lord, this is not going to be quick.” And, we get that sinking feeling.

But, in the process of acting in faith on the doctor’s word, the odds are, we usually recover from the illness and find that our faith has grown as a result – after the fact. Difficult times in the future won’t seem quite so difficult.

While we have it a lot easier today because of huge medical advances, unbelievably there are still things that isolate us today just like in the OT. Mostly we isolate ourselves by our own behavior. We prove the old saying, “I am the author of my own pain.”

In this present flu season, we wish we could isolate those who have it from those who don’t.

As far as things we do to ourselves that isolate us: there are behaviors such as suffering from the illness of negativity. Because of our personality, or life experiences, we have difficulty being positive and other people separate themselves from us.

People can only tolerate a certain amount of negativity before they start looking for the door. So, in effect, we end up living on the outskirts of town alone, much like the leper.

The same goes for the illness of being judgmental, or being an angry person, or a dishonest person. We are given a great big letting alone by others, and we suffer isolation and its pain all by ourselves.

What about those who are spiritually sick? How about those who have left the Church or even left Christianity? They have isolated themselves. Are they to be cared for? Yes, certainly, as much as they will allow us to try. But, try we must.

How about those family members from whom we have disassociated ourselves for one reason or another? Certainly, our reasons seemed valid at the time. Are the reasons still valid today? Maybe it’s time to reach out and see.

The truth is, often we have no idea, no clue, that we drive others away. We feel like we are fine and just can’t imagine we are the cause of their withdrawal.

So, the answer to all these things is for us who feel isolated and alone to follow the lead of the leper in today’s Gospel. We go to the Lord Jesus and ask for His healing of that thing, known or unknown, that visits upon us the pain of isolation.

The Gospels often note that Jesus was moved with great pity for the people as He preached the Kingdom of God. When He faced the troubled, the abandoned, the sick, when His heart was stirred by the blind, when face to face with the leper, He reached out to them. That’s who He was and is and wants us to be.

Jesus was moved not by disgust, not by antagonism, but by compassion and mercy. Having compassion and showing mercy are the Christian qualities of great minds and large hearts.

Today this Gospel calls us to allow our hearts to be enlarged by Christ, to try to reduce the isolation and loneliness of others and show them a Christ-like love that encompasses all things, especially them.

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.

What a great time to take a hard-interior look at ourselves.

What a great time to rebuild the relationships with family and friends that have languished.

What a great time to build up and repair our own relationship with the Lord. So that we can meet Him at Easter in all His glory.