|Jeremiah 50:4-7 *
|* both portions read together
Sunday of the Leper (2nd Sunday of Great Lent 2016)
Leprosy starts as a problem of the skin. But, in the Old Testament world, it became a problem of sin. An affliction that we now know is caused by bacteria may result in horrible disfigurement. Likewise, small disappointments in our character and spiritual life (“little sins”) may unfold in profoundly ugly ways, leaving us pained, staggering, and internally miserable because we no longer can detect warmth of grace.
Fortunately modern medicine can cure the bacterial disease, but leprosy still graphically illustrates sin’s debilitating power. According to the Old Testament book of Leviticus, any one examined by a priest and found with leprosy was immediately ostracized, made to cry out “unclean, unclean”, while covering his upper lip. These could only live with other lepers until they recovered or they succumbed to the disease. Needless to say lepers were shunned as and became forgotten relics thrown outside the city walls.
But doesn’t our sin result in the same castaway status where it counts – in the eyes of a holy and almighty God? The stain of our jealousies, pride, double-dealing, gossip, and indifference are not part of our Designer’s original specs. Should we not also be broken and cast into a heap? What if those truly hoping to follow Christ examined themselves – would we not need to walk alongside shouting “unclean, unclean?”
Again fortunately our Creator has provided a cure. Jesus walked among the lepers and healed them. He was not afraid of disease. Likewise, though He finds sin repugnant and alien, He is able to tame and master it, washing it away by His own sacrifice.
But for us, He asks us to present Himself before His own priesthood. A word from Him and vitality is restored. But we must approach Him. In this Lenten season, as we fast to prayer and identify with His sacrifice, we can understand our need for His grace. We can approach humbly and stand upright in gratitude. We may feel as Peter did (Luke 5:1-8) and say “Lord, depart from me, a sinner” when He reveals Himself, but He chooses to extend His hands to us. If we abide in His love, He will provide in us the well-spring of life necessary to jettison each and every unclean motivation.
As we receive from our Lord, we should immediately learn to listen more than speak. Jesus instructed the leper He healed to remain silent, commanding him to see the priest. We should take this word to heart. Instead of shouting about our experience, let us come to the house of God and be advised of excelling in the spiritual life in the context of God’s people – the Church. Together, we can walk in support of one another as healing continues to permeate our lives.
The challenge for many of us is not finding the mark of leprosy. These marks are often too numerous to miss. The challenge is to find the spiritual mark of grace. If we carry this mark, we want to be contagious! We rejoice to offer the grace we received, helping others inside the spiritual shelter, reunited with the faithful, casting off castaway status. Lepers are all about us, will we confidently be available for them in the model of Christ? Not coercive or abrasive, but patient and welcoming?
Our baptism has been likened by St. Irenaeus to being healed of the leprosy of sin. Naaman, suffering from leprosy, dipped himself in the Jordan River 7 times and was healed. Likewise Irenaeus says that our baptism cleanses us and makes us as new babes (Fragment 34, AD 190). We are ready to live in within the community of the Kingdom of God instead of begging outside the gates.
We are primed for health – can we offer ourselves in making others whole?
References: Leviticus 13, Luke 5, Psalm 5:5, 1 Samuel 15:23, Ephesians 2:8-9, 2 Kings 5:14