Imagine that every time someone was sick, we also automatically assumed they were sick because they did something wrong. Now, unfortunately, there are some diseases where we do still make that assumption and false judgment.
And when you start thinking this way, you begin to get a sense of what leprosy was like in the Bible, when an illness was directly connected with sin.
Besides the normal precautions we make around someone who is ill, for their sake and ours, depending on the disease, imagine that you also believed that you needed protection from the moral disease that the person is infected with. This is the reason why a sick person would be expelled from the community in Jesus’ time.
You’re sick. So you have done something wrong. Now get out of here!
In Jesus’ reaching out and healing of the leper, he breaks this cycle. He does what would be regarded as unthinkable by touching a man who was regarded as unclean. But by healing the leper, he challenges the boundaries we still make between who is acceptable and who is not. God wants us to move beyond places of comfort to respond to the needs of others no matter how strange they may be for us. He shows us that rejection is not a healing response, and that community and inclusion have parts to play in healing.
And in healing the leper, Jesus shows us that healing, like disease, can be contagious, too. We use the expression “spread the Good News” in the same way we say “a disease is spreading.”
With the season of Lent coming up very soon, we remember that Lent began as a time for the People of God to walk in solidarity with people who were trying to turn away from the world’s ways. Instead of looking at Lent as a time for self-improvement, let’s look at it as a time for healing, a healing that can’t be accomplished without each other.
Today, coincidentally, is also the 32nd World Day of the Sick, which falls on Feb. 11 every year. In his message for today, Pope Francis takes this theme of inclusion and exclusion even further. I want to conclude by sharing his thoughts. The Pope writes, “I share too in the pain, suffering and isolation felt by those who, because of war and its tragic consequences, are left without support and assistance. War is the most terrible of social diseases, and it takes its greatest toll on those who are most vulnerable.
At the same time, it needs to be said that even in countries that enjoy peace and greater resources, old age and sickness are frequently experienced in solitude and, at times, even in abandonment. This grim reality is mainly a consequence of the culture of individualism that exalts productivity at all costs, cultivates the myth of efficiency, and proves indifferent, even callous, when individuals no longer have the strength needed to keep pace. It then becomes a throwaway culture, in which “persons are no longer seen as a paramount value to be cared for and respected, especially when they are poor or disabled, ‘not yet useful’ – like the unborn, or ‘no longer needed’ – like the elderly” (Fratelli Tutti, 18).”
The sick, the vulnerable and the poor are at the heart of the Church; they must also be at the heart of our human concern and pastoral attention. May we never forget this!”