Once upon a time, far away and long ago, there was a sales person traveling down a very rural road. Feeling lost, and spotting a girl of about 12-years-old by the roadside, he asked, “How far is it to the Robinson Farm?” “Well sir,” said the bright young lady, “if you keep going the way you are headed, it’s about 24,996 miles. But if you turn around, it’s about four.”
Once upon a time, far away and long ago….” That’s what it sounds like in today’s Gospel. At that time people made a direct connection between a physical ailment and sin. If a person was afflicted with an ailment, in this case leprosy, it was presumed to be punishment for some sin the person or parents had committed.
So sickness – especially a sickness like leprosy, carried with it a double whammy – not only were you and all that you touched presumed to be physically contagious – and those to be avoided – but also you were seen as morally or spiritually inferior – as cursed – and therefore to be dealt with cautiously indeed….
So it was, once upon a time, far, far away and long, long ago those with leprosy or any skin disease that might turn out to be leprosy, were expelled from the community. Lepers were to “dwell apart”, that they were to live outside the camp of the people.
To live where they are not allowed to touch, to hug, to embrace those they know and love. To live in such a way that anything that they touch, or carry, or work on, can only be shared by others in the same position as they. To be utterly dependent on the charity – provided at a safe distance – of others. To have to announce their presence to others, their danger to others, by crying out “unclean, unclean” whenever they draw near.
Imagine the sense of desperation that drives this leper to kneel before Jesus and beg to be made clean. Jesus responds with deep feelings of his own and then does the unimaginable – he reaches out and touches the leper!
By touching the leper, Jesus takes on the leper’s uncleanness. Consequently, Jesus must remain an outcast, living in “deserted places”. But even this does not stop the people from coming to him from everywhere. In Jesus, they recognize someone who freely and fearlessly touches everything that is human. They cannot stay away from someone who draws this close to them. Can we?