“Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I will. Be made clean.”
Tuesday, 16 February 2021
Leprosy was a terrible affliction in the Ancient Near East. Lepers suffered not only from the actual physical disease but from being ostracised from the community. They were forced to exist outside the community, separated from family and friends, deprived of the experience of any form of human interaction. One may indeed wonder which was worse: the social ostracism experienced or the devastating skin lesions they had.
Many of us will never know what it means to be completely ostracised by society. The loneliness the ostracised suffer is inconceivable. However, other forms of “leprosy” destroy human beings and kill their hope and spirit isolating them from society. Who are the modern lepers? People who suffer from physical diseases that we stigmatise, isolate and shun? People we cut off from the land of the living. In South Africa, people who are HIV positive have been stigmatised, isolated and shunned not only by communities but also by their own families.
The same stigmatisation, isolation and shunning can happen to women who have been raped, those who have been abused – in our families and the Church. The list goes on: addicts, migrants, the disabled and elderly. Our society (and many of our churches!) scandalously ostracise gay people.
Jesus’ interaction with the leper carries another challenge too. We are invited to ask what social conditions – and how we contribute to them by our attitudes and lifestyles – force people to become the living dead today; relegating them to the cemeteries and dungeons of profound indignity, poverty, despair, isolation, violence, sadness, depression, homelessness, racism, addiction and mental illness? Our community is not some amorphous thing ‘out there’. People like us construct it by our attitudes, values, choices and lifestyles. We force some to live among the dead by the choices we make every day.
Today we are invited to spend some time pondering: In what way does Jesus’ willingness to engage with the ostracised invite me to seek and engage with the ostracised of our time as a matter of conscience? And, in what way have my lifestyle choices relegate others to become the living dead?