Of the many laws of the Old Testament observed in the time of Jesus, some dealt with the most severe social consequences of people with the dreadful and incurable skin disease of leprosy. “He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.” (Lev. 13:46) At first glance, today’s Gospel seems to be just one more of the many cures which Jesus performed. But on a deeper level, it deals with the social exclusion of the sick as well. Remember, th nose around Him were afraid that Jesus might have contracted the dreaded disease as well, after touching the leprous man, and that was the reason He was possibly forced to stay away from all others for a while. The Gospel writer is clear: “Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him.” And Jesus was willing to suffer the social consequences of that touch!
It’s easy to ignore the notion that the Gospel story about leprosy still means something to us today, because it’s so easily cured with antibiotics. But only too often, our own sick are removed from society in many ways, so obvious, some more subtle. Can we be more like Jesus and say to someone who’s ill, “I choose to touch your heart.”
When the leper in today’s Gospel says to Jesus, “If you want to, You can cure me,” is he saying: “Go ahead, You can do it! .. don’t worry .. You can cure me.” Or is he taunting Jesus: “If You want to, You can cure me.” Notice that the leper knows that Jesus can cure him but is unsure whether Jesus wants to cure him or not.
Jesus simply answers, “Of course I want to: be cured!” The He sternly orderss the man to say nothing to anyone. The leper, however, goes away and immediately begins to tell everyone that he’s cured and so that he’ll be allowed to live in his own village once more. In order to get some peace and quiet, or possibly because He had touched a leper, Jesus had to hide in places where no one lived Somehow, He and the leper have changed places!