· Vatican City ·

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time: 11 February

‘A leper came to Jesus’

 ‘A leper came to Jesus’  ING-006
09 February 2024

How difficult must be the life of a leper! Not only does he have to deal with a disease that little by little devours his entire body, but he must also endure the rejection, disgust, and open aversion of others.

A leper has always been instinctively avoided for fear of being infected. In ancient times lepers were banished, isolated, and considered to some extent guilty of their own misfortune. The disease not only attacked their body but was the cause of prejudice from others. It put to death their social relationships and impaired their relationship with the Christian community at large. This is why healing from leprosy took the form of a purification and in fact the priests of the Temple had to confirm their healing.

Let us try to understand for a moment the interior condition of the leper mentioned in this Gospel: before him loomed the spectre of an imminent and unavoidable death; within himself he experienced the greatest pain: loneliness, the deprivation of not even one friendly or kindly glance from others, the certainty of not being loved by anyone. In this abyss of human desperation, the leper finds the courage and dares to approach Jesus, he falls on his knees and begs Him: “If you want, you can heal me!” He has nothing to lose, he has only one hope left and so he cries out with humility to the only One who can help him. His condition has made him humble and at the same time wise: he takes note of his condition, he knows that alone he can do nothing to free himself from this physical and spiritual torment of death and despair. He seems to echo the invocation of the ancient psalmist: “Out of the depths have I cried to Thee, Lord; Lord, hear my voice”.

And immediately Jesus, moved with compassion, intervenes. First, He frees him from isolation and loneliness: “He reaches out His hand and touches him”. A gesture and a word: and with this, the man suddenly exists again, he is aware that he exists again as a person, what a gift after so many years! He has become precious in the eyes of another, who treats him with gentleness and compassion. His dignity is restored. He is spoken to with benevolence and not contempt.

This first fundamental gift is also followed by the healing of his body, an essential condition for being readmitted to social and religious life.

For the sons of Saint Francis of Assisi, listening to this evangelical account immediately reawakens a decisive characteristic of our vocation, generated from the encounter of our Seraphic Father with a leper:

One day, while he was riding across the plain that lies at the foot of Assisi, he came across a leper. That unexpected meeting filled him with horror. But, thinking back to the aim of perfection, yes conceived in his mind, and reflecting that, if he wanted to become knight of Christ, he had first of all to conquer himself, he came down from horse and ran to embrace the leper and, whilst he stretched out his hand as if to receive alms, handed him some money and kissed him” (ff 1034).

Like the leper, we too must learn the humility and wisdom of crying out to the Lord, from the depths of all our loneliness and anguish, because only He can save us and admit us to the fullness of life. By acknowledging this first fundamental gift we can then experience the healing of our bodies, and like Jesus and Francis of Assisi, we too must be attentive to hear the cry of our many brothers and sisters who await a gesture of closeness and a kind word to rediscover lost dignity and reopen joy that new life in Jesus brings.

I cannot help but draw attention to the words of Pope Francis who tells us to “embrace the lepers of today”, the poor, the needy, the marginalized of society, the refugees, and on Sunday, I heard him say on Vatican Radio, reach out and be close to them, be tender, be compassionate! Such poignant and moving words. However, words must be translated into action, so, are we ready to reach out to the modern-day lepers with such tenderness and compassion?

*  Custody of the Holy Land

By Fr Luke Gregory, ofm *