In today’s Gospel it may seem that a simple, albeit miraculous, healing has taken place, one of many during Our Lord’s earthly ministry, but considering the cultural attitude and Mosaic law at the time regarding lepers we are witnessing a great act of courage and faith on the leper’s part as well as a great act of compassion on Jesus’ part. Leprosy was considered a punishment by God for sin by the Jews of the time (see, for example, the punishment inflicted on Miriam when she grumbled against her brother Moses’ leadership in Numbers 12). Lepers were to avoid appearing in public and to announce they were nearby to warn off those who might come in contact with them. Because of this they were also considered ritually impure: no Jew would want to go near them, much less touch them. It’s not clear whether the “crowds” are witnessing this too, but the leper was breaking the law by approaching a rabbi in this way. Any Jew would have expected Jesus to reject him outright, but Jesus doesn’t hesitate to touch the unclean and impure leper and may him clean and pure again.
How embarrassing, even humiliating, it can feel when we go to Confession, and that just involves getting in line with maybe a few people who are more or less strangers and then, in the silence of the confessional, coming clean about our sins knowing the priest will keep it completely confidential (even to the point of martyrdom). Leprosy may not have been sin, but it continues to symbolize it even today because of its appearance in Sacred Scripture. Sin makes our lives decay and rot spiritually: if it could be seen, not only would it horrify us, but it would repulse others as well. Our Lord has the same attitude toward us, sinners, as he did toward that leper: he does not hesitate to draw near us, or let us draw near him, and to reach out and touch us with healing and forgiveness.
Let’s examine the spiritual leprosy afflicting our lives–sin–and muster the faith and courage to approach Our Lord in the sacrament of Confession and receive healing and forgiveness.
Readings: Genesis 17:1, 9–10, 15–22; Psalm 128:1–5; Matthew 8:1–4.