A Witnessing Love.
Fr. Serg Kabamalan, CJM
Leprosy is the term used in the Holy Scriptures to refer to any kind of skin disease not only in the context we use it today. It could be allergy, skin asthma, fungal infection, scabies and the like. Since all illnesses were seen as indication of the sinfulness of the person or his/her parents, the priests in the Temple of Jerusalem was deemed the authority whether the person should be cast out of the community being a danger to everyone they come in contact with, or upon healing be admitted back after ritual cleansing. We can understand that from the anthropological point of view as it points to preservation of life and the community.
Still, it is startling that a religious culture could be so fixated with its system of ritual cleansing and purity that it could result to rejection of some people deemed unworthy and a threat to the collective state of being as God’s chosen people. Expulsion of the afflicted though motivated by a desire for greater good was like giving up on the person and disregarding the power of God to transform and heal a person.
Surely Jesus saw through the oppressiveness of the system, that many times he braved the ridicule and the ire of the vanguard of the Jewish precepts so that he could reach out to those in the margins whenever the situation presented itself. Today’s Gospel, the healing of a leper, is no different. But one’s attention is momentarily grabbed by the faith of the leper. “If you wish to, you can make me clean!” declared the leper before Jesus. It was bold and daring considering what he had to go through. He exerted effort and steeled himself against possible rejection to meet Jesus, to be in the midst of the people who might be repelled by his presence, and to make his wishes known to him. It displayed a great faith in the authority and power of Jesus, we can conclude, if we look in and see the situation from the vantage point of one who knew no other recourse but put his faith in God in the utter hopelessness of his life, condemned to be cut-off from his family and friends, and the life of the community. Such situation usually comes with a gift. Those who have nothing actually gain the luxury of drawing great faith from such poverty. The leper already in the direst strait of exclusion and rejection had nothing to lose. He has already triumphed over the temptation to give-up. In the utter emptiness and darkness of his condition, he realized the greatness of God in the person of Jesus. That gave him hope. That enabled him to muster enough faith. That impelled him to action!
Jesus was also bold and daring. Against all social and religious standards, he stretched out his hand and touched the untouchable knowing well as a Jew the dominant view that touching a leper would render him unclean. He transcended the norm and the common expectation, and expressed his assent to the request, displaying and affirming the way of God’s love. God’s love reaches out to all, especially the marginalized. God’s love seeks, engages, includes, gathers, and unites. It situates the Jewish notion of election. If God chooses and sets one apart, it is not meant to separate, reject and isolate others. It is not meant either to deny the right of others to live and exist in a condition befitting the dignity of a human being. It is rather a way to invite his elect to participate in his divine plan to reach out and seek the lost, to build an inclusive human community that crosses the great human divide of race, language, culture, tradition, age, gender, economic status, political affiliation, belief system… the list could go on and on. Thus, enlarging the election and participation towards an authentic communion.
Jesus, by healing the leper, restored him back to take his place in the community. Buoyed by the experience of God’s inclusive love, the healed person became an evangelizer proclaiming how the Lord moved in his life against the concern that mass support will put Jesus radically against the traditional power and authority. Perhaps, Jesus was still hoping that somehow by treating his adversaries gently, by avoiding anything that would prick their bubble, and by quietly doing his mission, they will come around. But their opposition to him had consequently excluded themselves from the slowly growing communion of the faithful. As a result, Jesus could not enter the towns. It was just as well, for Jesus came for the marginalized like the leper: the sinners, the lost, the weak, the oppressed, and the voiceless!
O Jesus, grant us faith and courage to participate in witnessing to the power of your love and mercy to the people waylaid by the society. May our communion with you be a transforming presence in our world today! Amen!