Of Course! Jesus Wants To Heal Us Of The Leprosy of Helplessness!
Rdgs: (1st: Lev 13, 1-2. 44-46; Ps 31, 1-2. 5. 11; 2nd: 1Cor 10, 31. 11, 1: Gos: Mk 1, 40-45)
This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a Member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers (Spiritans). He is currently working at the Sanctuario del Espiritu Santo, en Dorado, Puerto Rico, del Internacional Grupo Espiritano De Puerto Rico – Republica Dominicana. For more details and comments contact him on: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.
A couple of days ago we celebrated World Day of the Sick. Today the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time, the church continues to remind us of the fact that Jesus is the friend of outcasts. She also reminds us that unlike the Levitical priests, Jesus is still willing to do the unimaginable in order to save us from the leprosy of helplessness. Finally, she calls us to make Jesus our role model by caring for our brethrens instead of stigmatizing and branding them “outcasts.”
While reflecting on the readings of this Sunday, I recalled the event of 23, October, 2014, when we were greeted with the rumor that infiltrated the entire Island that some Nigerian priests in Dorado, Puerto Rico were infected with the Ebola virus. Only God knew how I felt when I heard this very unpopular, stigmatizing and character deforming rumor courtesy of one desperate television channel in the Island. It was then I knew what it meant to be stigmatized. Even though the whole story was later confirmed to be a flatus vocis by the same station that latter swallowed its own vomit and recanted, yet it was not an easy period. What worsened the situation was that during this period, apart from members of our immediate religious community and staff, only one person called to say: “I heard the rumor and, I know it is not true, do not mind their lies.” Others distanced themselves, went underground, while waiting for the confirmation of the rumor. Perhaps to excuse them, they knew it was one of such rumors and gossips characteristic of the island and so, decided to overlook it. But the fact is that, they never called or cared to say: “how are you coping with this rumor?” Why this story? This silence was like the stigma and the treatment prescribed for a leper in our first reading and, which the leper in our gospel actually suffered. It re-echoed the Levitical law which says: “He must live apart; he must live outside the camp.” This was the situation in the days of Jesus until he suddenly turned the table around and did the unimaginable.
Our first reading and gospel have a lot in common. This is because both of them referred to the hopeless situation orchestrated by leprosy. During the time of Jesus in Ancient (Near East) Israel, leprosy was a dreaded disease like the Ebola or HIVAIDS of our time. Contacting leprosy was a matter of life and death. Even though it was a physical sickness, according to Jewish religious and traditional beliefs leprosy was greatly associated with Sin. Hence, the immediate consequence of suffering from leprosy was that that the patient was “anathematized” and becomes an automatic outcast who must be banished: “As long as the disease lasts…and therefore, must live apart.” This is because his/her continuous existence or cohabitation with others will defile them. One sad aspect of this condition was that the victim has to announce his own uncleanness as the law stipulates: “He must shield his upper lips and cry, ‘unclean, unclean.’” Is this different from the stigma we subject people to, today? Our first reading must remind us of the recent out breaks of diseases in our world, our reactions, and most especially the stigma people were subjected to. Reading about the way leprosy patients were treated in the holy books one might conclude that their treatment and punishment were too harsh. However, our own history certainly proves us wrong, that we have done worse than the Levitical code prescribed. I am sure we have not forgotten too soon that there were cases where sick people were rounded, up slaughtered and buried in mass graves because they were sick, weak, un-productive and, wasting the resources of the community or the country. During the Nazi’s T-4 programme, an estimated 250,000-350,000 Germans were put to death for being sick and weak. What is the reason behind the systematic gospel of “mercy killing” or euthanasia that we package, preach and present to our sick brethren today? In fact, it seems that more sick people die due to stigma, than from the actual disease they suffered. Yet, the truth my dear brethren, is that apart from the physical leprosy, there are more deadly kinds of helpless leprosy which only God through Christ, could cure us of. Through sin, we are all outcasts, but through the mercy of God and Jesus’ action of grace we are restored.
In the second reading, Paul implores us: “Take me as your model as I take Christ.” This model is that of sacrifice and caring for others, drawing closer to people especially in their weakness, sickness, and ensuring that they do not feel rejected. It is a model that refuses favoritism, segregation, branding of others, or stigmatizing the sick, or presenting them ungodly, deceptive and seductive options. This is why Paul says: “…I try to be helpful to everyone at all times, not anxious of my own advantage; but for the advantage of everybody else, so that they may be saved.” This is exactly what Christ did and is still willing to do for us. He did not spare himself in order to deliver us from the leprosy of helplessness. He was not afraid that he will contact it, yet, he abides with us. Paul replicated this with his life and encourages us to do the same with our own life.
In the gospel of this Sunday like that of last week, Jesus continues to heal. Today, Jesus encountered a leper. Instead of avoiding, rejecting or stigmatizing the leper, he touched and healed him. To the humble petition of the leper: “If you want to, you can cure me,” Jesus responded with both words and action: “! Of course, I want to, be cured!” When Jesus touched the leper he not only dared touching something unclean, but also dared doing something forbidden by the Levitical law. The reason is simple! He is the fullness and fulfillment of the Law and knew what the man needed most. By healing the leper, Jesus makes a statement that he was not excluded from Salvation. Although this man disobeyed Jesus’ instruction by announcing the miracle and, by not showing himself to the priest, the truth is that, the joy of being healed, and of rejoining his society overwhelmed him to the point that he forgot himself. The fact of today’s gospel is that Jesus proved to be different from the Levitical priests whose duty it was to pronounce judgment and make sure that a leper was duly punished. On the contrary, Jesus as a real brother and friend cared for and, cured the man.
Jesus communicates the love and mercy of God in signs that speak more eloquently than words. This is what we must learn from Jesus today. How do we approach “the untouchables and outcasts,” the sick, the weak, the poor, and those we find difficult to love in our society? Do we offer them mercy and help as Jesus did? There is no gain saying that in our world today many still suffer and die from the stigma we have placed on them because of their poverty, sickness, or weakness. Finally, each one of us manifested a helpless leprosy and, something more than this would have been found in our lives today if Jesus had not come to our aid. Most especially, it is good to know that there is a special willingness in Jesus to help us more. The Lord is always ready to show us his mercy and to free us from whatever makes us unclean. So he continues to say: “! Of course, I want to!” Therefore, praise him: “You are my refuge, O Lord; you fill me with the joy of salvation.
Peace be with you!