Dear Friends in Christ
We tend to think of leprosy as an ancient disease when, in fact, it is actually sadly very much also a modern one, infecting millions of people even today. Over six hundred people are diagnosed every day, fifty of which are children. Over three million people are living with undiagnosed leprosy and over four million are living with a disability caused by leprosy. Now as then, the disease carried a terrible stigma, with sufferers being cast out and rejected by their families and their communities.
Leprosy is a bacterial infection which affects the skin and nervous system.
The first symptom is usually a patch of discoloured skin and, if left untreated, the disease can cause loss of sensation, resulting in amputation, ulcers and blindness. Leprosy is passed through coughing, sneezing a long-term contact with someone who has the disease. That’s the bad news. The good news is that it is now completely curable through multi-drug therapy.
In Jesus’ day things were even worse for lepers – they were cast out of the community and all contact was forbidden. For Mark, Jesus is the healer of every disease and sickness, both physical and spiritual. Although we are unlikely to be infected with leprosy. We are all afflicted with the leprosy of sin. We all sin against God, ourselves, and against others. Furthermore, sin is infectious: if we are angry, we pass on anger; if we are resentful we pass on resentment; if we are impatient, intolerant and unkind, these vices are passed on, one to another.
Jesus came to make us all clean – clean of sin and free of its debilitating consequences. Jesus wants us to know his healing touch but this can only happen if we recognise, as the leper does into today’s gospel, that we need healing. Lepers of old would cry our ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ We know deep in our hearts that we need to be cleansed, purified and liberated from the sin that prevents us from enjoying life to the full. We seek the healing of Christ in many ways; through prayer and in reading the Scriptures, but supremely through the healing presence of Christ in the Eucharist.