Touching the Untouchable
And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “if you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity (compassion), he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.
Throughout middle school and high school, I did not fit in to any cliché clique. I was a nerd who was not into Star Wars or comic books and I was an athlete who did not keep up with sports news. I was one of the few boys that was not interested in sleeping around and flaunting it like some kind of social superiority. I was the outcast in high school. In my first high school, people heard rumors about me from people who did not really know me, so they avoided me. I switched schools and things were not much different. For the primarily Hispanic school, I was Caucasian. For the primarily Caucasian school, I was Hispanic. Because of all the betrayal and bullying I faced, I was cynical of all my relationships with others and put up boundaries to protect myself. This was until I met my mentor, Joe, my senior year of high school. He loved me unconditionally and that persistent love broke down my walls. I felt included. I felt loved.
In this pericope, we see a leper coming to Jesus humbly asking to be cleaned. The leper had no doubt in Christ’s power and authority recognizing and acknowledging Christ for who he was. He even kneeled before him, which is a sign of worship and supplication. His question was if Christ was willing to heal him, a leper. Jesus not only healed him, but he touched him, something the leper may not have encountered in years. Then Christ told him to show the priest he was clean of leprosy so that he can enter society again.
Leprosy made a person a social outcast. Leprosy is commonly thought today to be when your body is decaying. In reality, it could be a number of different skin conditions. One of the main reasons leprosy was perceived as “unclean” was that it was typically associated with death since you might be perceived as a sort of “walking corpse” with a skin disease with your skin flaking off. It may not have been “curable,” but it was not necessarily permanent either. One could not be touched in fear of contracting leprosy. Lepers were seen as highly contagious, similar to chicken pox.
Jesus broke social norms. The leper took a step of faith by breaking the taboo and approaching Jesus. We see that Jesus had compassion for the leper. While the passage in Mark says pity in this translation, I think it is better to use the word “compassion.” Compassion, for Jesus, was always followed by action. He had compassion for the leper and then he healed him. Not only did He heal him, He TOUCHED him. That is so important to note. Leprosy was seen as contagious and ritually unclean. To touch a leper would make one unclean. The touch which should have made Jesus unclean actually worked in the opposite direction. Jesus made the leper clean.
What makes a modern leper? There are a lot of things. Not fitting into a clique. Having some kind of trauma. Those who have been sexually assaulted have difficulty being touched and being loved. Those who have been abused or bullied have difficulty being touched and are cynical and untrusting. Those who have depression have difficulty receiving love. You could even become a leper and risk the “impurity” rubbing off on them by sitting with the kid who sits alone or befriending the kid who has abnormal habits or hobbies. Do not be afraid of “contracting” that “polluted status” from a modern leper. Show compassion and act upon it.
At some point, we all feel like that leper. We are called to live a life that is against the culture. We are called to be like Christ, not like the world. Remember what Christ did to the leper. He broke the social norm, had compassion, and acted upon it. Reach out to the modern lepers and show them that same compassion as you go about your week. You will be a blessing and you will be blessed.