Leprosy

The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 11, 2018

Mark 1:40-45

 

“Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, ‘I do will it. Be made clean.” (Mk. 1:41)

 

One of the greatest gifts that humanity has received is the gift of touch. We are created as bodily being, and biology tells us that practically all our body surface is covered by fabric nerve that receives the external stimulates like heat, pleasure, and pain. It is the first step in our survival mechanism as it helps us to identify the approaching dangers or threats. Yet, it is the first step also in our authentic growth as human beings. A baby will feel loved when she is embraced by her parents. A toddler who learns to walk will feel a sense of guidance and security when his father holds his hand. Even a grown-up man will need comfort and warm coming from his family.

 

If there is one thing that destroys this gift of touch, this is leprosy.  The disease will practically create a “walking death.”  Leprosy or also known as Hansen’ disease is caused by Mycobacterium leprae that bring about severe, disfiguring skin sores and nerve damages around the body. The greatest injury that this disease inflicts is that a person loses the ability to feel external stimulates like pain. As a consequence, a leper gradually loses its limbs like his fingers, hair, nose, arms, and feet because of the unnoticed repeated injuries or untreated wounds. Yet, the most painful about this disease is that the stigma the lepers receive from their community. In the time of Jesus, lepers are expelled from their community because people fear to contract the infectious disease. Even, people consider leprosy as God’s punishment (see 2Chro 26:20). Because of that, a leper is not only biologically sick but ritually unclean, meaning he is not able to worship God as he is barred from entering the synagogue or the temple (see Lev 13). He must cry “Unclean, unclean!” to remind the people nearby not touch him, otherwise, the persons may become unclean as well. A person with leprosy is not only losing the gift of touch from his body, but also from his community and his God. No wonder, leprosy is the most dreaded disease in the ancient Israel society.

 

With this background, we may fully appreciate what Jesus does to the leprous man. He is stretching his hands and making a deliberate effort to touch him. Jesus does not only risk of contracting the disease, but Jesus may become ritually unclean. Yet, Jesus insists because He knows that the gift of touch is what the man needs most. Indeed, Jesus’ touch brings healing and restores the lost gift of touch. The man is able once more to feel the goodness of life, to re-enter his community, and to worship his God.

 

When we call Jesus as the savior, it means that by sacrificing His life, Jesus reestablishes the lost connection between us and our deepest selves, between us and our neighbors, and between us and our God. How does Jesus do it? With the gift of touch. Our God is indeed a spirit, but our God is not abstract. He becomes flesh so that we may fully experience His love, His touch. As His disciples, we are called to participate in God’s concrete love by expanding this love to others. Do we dare to touch people with modern-day leprosies, like poverty? Are we willing to restore the broken relationship in our lives? Are we eager to meet our God in prayer? Do we want to touch those who have been away from God and bring them back?

 

Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

 

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