After the events of this past year surrounding the CoVid pandemic we have to read the scripture passages about Jesus’ encounters with lepers with a greater insight and a new understanding of the suffering of the person who has been diagnosed as having been infected by disease. The infectious disease has its own trauma of physical suffering and life threatening illness but there is also the added psychological suffering of the isolation and separation from loved ones that goes along with it. Everyone in the past year has been introduced to the suffering brought on by quarantine, isolation, physical distancing, loss of personal freedoms, shutdowns, stay apart orders and family separation that have become a part of our everyday life. We have all had to live with the fear of infecting someone who we love by simply being near them. If we have even been in the vicinity of someone with the disease we are looked upon with suspicion and subjected to social isolation. If there is even the suspicion that we might be carrying the disease we become outcasts and people treat us as some sort of monster that threatens our safety. We are denied social interaction and even the freedom to attend worship services and pray together in a communal setting. Parents and grandparents are separated from their children and grandchildren and children are separated from their parents. Family and community gatherings have all been eliminated. If we do not follow the restrictions that are imposed upon us then we are threatened with punishments and even imprisonment.
The healing that is necessary from this current pandemic will extend far beyond the development of a vaccine and the treatment of the disease itself. Lives have been changed. There will be long lasting effects of this disease in our community that will linger long into the future. Our human relationships have been changed by this disease and it will take a long time to remove the distancing that has taken place among us. For some, social distancing will become a permanent part of their lives and their social interactions. Like the lepers of the time of Jesus, we have come to learn through experience that illness and disease does not only effect our physical well-being.
When a person is suffering from illness there are deep hurts that a person must endure. Often a sick person is separated from society and becomes isolated and alone. The person might be feeling shame and humiliation because of their weakness and helplessness. They can feel embarrassed and ashamed at not being able to be themselves and accomplish the tasks that they once were able to carry out with ease. They see themselves as diminished and a burden to others and withdraw even more from relationships. There may be a sense of guilt as the person irrationally thinks that they have in some way caused their own weakness. The person already feels the cold and lonely touch of death, distanced from life. Often a sick person might feel distant and forgotten by God, unable to pray and unworthy to worship.
Jesus is able to see beyond the visible, physical wounds of the sick persons that he encounters and has great compassion and pity for their spiritual suffering. Jesus knows what is in the hearts of those he encounters and he knows that it is often what is deep within a person that causes them the greatest pain. These are the wounds that Jesus wants to touch and to heal. Jesus has the healing touch that brings new and abundant life.
The leper that approaches Jesus on his knees appeals to his heart of compassion and mercy, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” (Mk 1,40) To be made clean is more than just healing physical wounds, it is restoring a person back to wholeness and communion with others. Jesus is “moved with pity” and he stretches out his hand and touches him. The touch of Jesus penetrates deep within the leper’s soul and brings him back to life. “I do will it. Be made clean.” Jesus wills that all those who are suffering might receive a clean start and be restored to life.
Persons that are sick need to be touched by Jesus. This touch is not only physical but is a touch of compassion and mercy that allows a person to feel that they are not alone but are in communion with others who are praying for them. Ministers to the sick and homebound are the hands and heart of Jesus that reach out and touch the deepest wounds. Sick persons need more than medical attention, they need spiritual and communal attention. Visiting the sick, praying with them and listening to their struggles and frustrations are important elements to being the healing presence of Jesus. To recover from these trying times we all will be called to be healers and to rebuild our community. Jesus assures us that it is God’s will that we all be restored to the fullness of life.