Leviticus 13: 1-2, 44-46; Corinthians 10: 31 – 11: 1; Mark 1: 40-45
Hearing the first reading for today’s liturgy, how many of us are thinking, “Gee, this sounds familiar!” Now, leprosy, as experienced by the Jews of Moses time, of even the time of Jesus, was and umbrella term, that covered a whole slew of skin diseases. There were people who might develop a severe skin rash or infection, that would be considered leprosy, but that the sufferer could recover from. We see in the Book of Leviticus, that there was a ritual that had to be followed for that recovered person to perform in order to be readmitted into the community. Unfortunately, there were a lot of people who developed actual leprosy, the disease we associate with Damian of Molokai and his people; with Mother Theresa of Kalkuta in India. It was back then an incurable disease, a living death sentence, a disease that made a sufferer an outcast from his or her community forever. We may be able to identify a little; maybe a lot, with the fear that might strike a family, a community, a people, when a deadly, unseen disease threatens our health, our lives.
And maybe, like the people of Jesus time, we raise our eyes up to heaven and cry out “Where is God, with all this fear, this illness, with all this death! I am no theologian, who can give a deep thought that explain all this. What I can say is this; God is with us! His Spirit is with the scientists, who are finding and developing the vaccines to keep us safe. Jesus Christ is with the doctors, the nurses, the hospital staff, who care for our loved ones who may be ill, putting their own lives at risk. And the Spirit is within each one us, inspiring us to comfort a person going through hard times, to give of our time, talents, and treasure, to help those out of work, struggling with to keep a roof over their heads. And Jesus is with anyone who reaches out us, when we feel this pandemic weighing down on us.
I have a story to tell. One of my favorite saints is Francis of Assisi, there is a story of him and an encounter with a leper. Francis was dedicated to caring for lepers, as his brother friars shared that same dedication. In this shelter they had for housing local lepers, they would feed them, wash them, make them as comfortable as possible. Now, there was this one leper who did not appreciate the quality of care they were trying to provide them. He would swear at the friars, calling them incompetents, and some other words that should be mentioned in public. Francis heard about this, and went to meet with the leper. When he entered the room he was in, he gave his usual greeting; “Peace be with you! “ “Peace?” The leper snarled, “How can I know peace when you send me brothers who cannot help!” “Well” Francis replied, “I am here now, How may I serve you?” The leper said “I stink! I need to be bathed!” So, Francis ordered a tub of warm water be prepared; with fragrant herbs added. He lowered the leper into the water and to began to wash him. And wherever his hand touched the leper’s skin, the leprosy disappeared! The leper was so moved by the miracle, he went to the friars, and begged their forgiveness for the way he treated them. He was said to have lead a very holy life from that time on!
In myriad of ways, Jesus reaches out to touch us, to comfort us, to heal us in whatever way we need it. He, in turn, expects us to share that grace with anyone else in need that may cross our path. God is with us, in many mysterious ways! Rejoice, and be at peace!