A leap of the leaper -Friday, 12th week in ordinary time – Matthew 8:1- 4
We have just concluded the first of Matthew’s five discourses. The Sermon on the Mount which spanned three chapters, five to seven, gives way to ten miracles and three calls to discipleship. These miracle stories stacked one after the other by St Matthew are not presented to us as merely a collection of miracle narratives but are given to us for contemplation; the Messiah of the word (Chapters 5-7) is also the Messiah of the deed. The Messiahship of Jesus, having been experienced with ‘authority,’ is now backed by deeds that can only be done by one who has such authority.
The first of these ten miracles concern a leper. Right away this narrative would make a good Jew of the first century recoil in horror. If there was one disease that was abhorred by any Jew or for that matter any citizen of the Roman empire, it was leprosy. Such was the fear of this disease that even a skin ailment would send you packing off to a leper’s colony well outside the village limits with several dehumanizing and demeaning social rules to follow. These rules then got a religious sanction for one had to get a certification of healing not from a doctor but from the priest no less. (Leviticus 13:45)
Jesus has come down from the Mount where he has preached love, forgiveness, kindness and every conceivable act of goodness. ‘Great crowds’ accompany him and perhaps hidden in that crowd, his shame rapped under layers of clothes to avoid detection, was this leper. Once again, this may not have been Hansen’s disease but just a skin ailment.
Desperation gives you perspective. Desperation makes you single minded. When in desperation, the property we have been fighting for, the career move we have been angling at, the friend we hoped would be our soul mate; none of these matter. When in desperation we seek just the one solution that would restore our life back to what it once was. In the Gospel of today, we are not told the social status of the leper nor his name. We just know that he is a man and we are told of his medical condition. But in all this we are also told of the humility with which he approaches our Lord.
Desperation often gives way to anger and frustration leaving us bitter and not better. Here was a man who wanted to be not just better but healed completely. What is amazing is his approach to a matter laden with social stigma. His humility is what the Gospel calls us to imitate, “if you choose, you can make we clean,” he says to Our Lord.
Leaving healing to God, is what we ought to do. Why are some of us, devout as we may be, holy as we may be, never healed? Jesus in the Gospels tells us that our healing is not for ourselves but to bring glory to God. Look at this man with leprosy, there was no demand or any pressure from him. He had heard Jesus speak of love and now in love he asks for what could have been turned down by the Lord. Note also the single-mindedness of his request. As I said, when we are desperate, life in all its reality, becomes the focus of our asking and all this man wants right now is just to be clean.
On a more reflective note, many of us also suffer from spiritual uncleanliness. Like leprosy, it ought to disgust us but sadly we may have grown used to living in our ‘sin colony.’ Today, make an effort to take your uncleanness to the Lord with the same words of the leper, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” This humility is necessary, for we are aware of how often we have tried to battle a particular sin that has shamed us when we enter the presence of the Lord’s house. We have promised the Lord that we would shun this sin but the sin has persisted. Today, try Jesus, try the words of a leper…. “if you choose Lord,” and hear his say to you, “I choose.”
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