“Unclean! Unclean! Beware! Stay Back! Unclean!”
Imagine having to shout “Unclean” wherever we walked or hearing “Unclean, Beware” shouted in the streets as a warning to others that we had a ‘disease’ and were not ritually pure and that our presence could infect others with whatever terrible ‘disease’ we had.
For good and obvious reasons, the people of Jesus’ time were very sensitive to disease, especially sores and scales on the body. Medical care was primitive or non-existent and catching a disease could be life-threatening. The Jewish community formulated a whole set of laws concerning ritual purity that governed their worship, but the root of those laws was set in keeping people healthy and away from contagious disease.
In Luke’s Gospel, we find 10 men afflicted with leprosy traveling together. Now this was most likely not true leprosy because there is no anthropological evidence of true leprosy existing in Israel until much later in time. More likely this was a form of eczema, psoriasis or some other scaly, flaky disorder of the skin. Whatever it was, the people feared it and required anyone afflicted to remain outside of community, the mainstay of Middle-Eastern existence. This meant they were not allowed to socialize with anyone; they could not stay or associate with family members or live within their community. They were not allowed to worship in the Temple; to work, farm or earn a living in any way. They were banished completely and cast out – alone - without means of survival – relying solely on begging to stay alive.
It is no wonder why, when they encounter Jesus they ask, not for healing, but for mercy. They desired a return to life in the community – where their life could again - be normal. Jesus, recognizing their need and understanding the consequences of their disease – its effect on their very existence – takes pity on them.
Someone who was healed from leprosy or - other disease that rendered a person unclean - had to present themselves to the priest before being allowed to re-enter the community: to live, to worship, to work, to re-enter their lives among family and friends. Sending the lepers to show themselves to the priests was necessary for these men to be welcomed back into the life of the community. In essence, they were “dead” and through Jesus’ healing power - now brought back to life.
I find a great parallel in this story with the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When we sin, we, in effect, place ourselves outside our community of faith. Our sins, - especially grave sins, - separate us from the love of God and divide us from our community and the unity of faith in which we all profess.
In a state of sin, we are like the ten lepers roaming the countryside cast out from our community of faith. We don’t go about shouting, “Unclean! Beware!” – imagine that, if we did! But within our hearts, even though we participate in our daily lives – we are outsiders, looking in. We are no longer whole – no longer fully members participating in the life of the community of believers. And like the ten lepers, we go searching about for the One who can heal us and return us to life, Jesus Christ.
We seek out Jesus and ask for His mercy and forgiveness – through which we may be healed. In His great love for us, he makes us whole and restores us to life among our family and friends; returning us to our community of the faithful. He sends us to the priest, to present ourselves for examination – showing - that by His power - we are healed and freed from sin and division.
In Jesus’ love and mercy, He returns us to life. He restores us so we may live again among our family and friends, our brothers and sisters in Christ, so we may take our place at table; giving thanks to God –
- For our healing and freedom from sin –
- For the gift of our life and
- For all the gifts He bestows on us in His great love for His children. ~ Amen
Deacon Don Ron