Leviticus 13: 1-2, 44-46; Mark 1: 40-45
As we listen to these stories of the healing of the man with leprosy, I think it’s good to keep in the back of our mind that, when we do hear them, it’s pretty certain that there is going to be more than just a physical healing that takes place. Of course I have worked with many sick people, to the point of terminal and nearing the end of their lives, and it so often seems that the physical pain becomes secondary to what it can do on the inside. It’s the isolation, the separation from family and friends, the disconnect from the community that begins to take a toll, sometimes causing greater pain than the physical part. Not to say that many don’t suffer greatly in a physical way; there are many that do. Some of it, I dare say, is that we don’t like to face it. It’s easier to separate and isolate than it is to look suffering in its face, despite the fact that we are constantly being invited into this mystery of life and death, truly one and the same mystery.
It’s what goes on with the guy in the gospel today and his encounter with Christ. More than anything, this guy wants to be connected to the larger story, the story of community. His leprosy has kept him separate and in isolation and we see his immediate response is to want to go and tell everyone. First, of course, he’s told to follow the precept of the law and show himself to the priest. We hear that account in the first reading today from Leviticus in the message delivered from the Lord to Moses and Aaron. “He shall dwell apart” is the command that is given to those with leprosy. Do we have any idea what it does to the human person when they are disconnected from the larger story of the community? Think about it, even to this day we still try to separate and have a hard time going to visit those who are sick and dying because our own mortality is put on the line and in such great vulnerability, we are tested deep within, connecting us with suffering and death itself, and ultimately, to the larger story of who we are, the mystery of life and death, where suffering is so intricately connected. We live in a culture that avoids death and suffering at all cost. We can’t bring ourselves at times to face it.
But as we know, Jesus has a way of turning things on its head in the gospel accounts that we hear on Sunday. Yes, it is the man who suffers from leprosy that has lived isolated and disconnected, separated from community, but not by his own choice. He doesn’t choose to isolate and separate. He doesn’t choose to disconnect. It’s those who consider themselves the insiders that make the choice for him and it is them, too, that have become disconnected from the larger story, the great mystery of our human lives, the interconnectedness of life and death and suffering. They want nothing to do with the suffering. They want nothing to do where their own vulnerability is going to be put on the line. They want nothing to do with those that have been deemed unclean, less than human, separated from their deepest desire, to be one. Yet, the only way we become that one is to embrace the mystery in its entirety. They go out, as the gospel tells us today, to encounter the Lord. It’s everyone that is need of conversion and an encounter with the Lord, not simply the man suffering with leprosy.
It may just be appropriate that we hear these readings now that we stand just a few days away from the start of Lent. We focus so much on what we’re going to give up that we sometimes forget that it is a season of change and conversion, growing in holiness. So often it’s the very leprous parts about ourselves that we cut off that are in need of healing and conversion. We learn as kids how to protect ourselves and keep ourselves safe in times of darkness, but as adults, it’s stands in the way of living life in its fullness, a life of being one. As we approach the season of Lent, we can begin to ask ourselves where are those places within us that we have cut off, turn away from, can’t handle, that we don’t like, the places that have become so often our sin, that place of death within. For all we do to separate, even other people and within ourselves, God now tries to pull together and reconcile, to make whole and one. That’s where real healing and growth takes place, when we no longer have to live separate from and disconnected from the larger story of life, our lives, the great mystery. God now invites us into those places that have become separated and leprous in our lives to bring us back into wholeness and holiness as we seek the healing touch of the Lord.