Why is it that despite our faith and trust in God, we continue to link goodness and holiness with health and associate fault and sin with sickness? People certainly did that in Jesus' time. If you were sick, you must have sinned and you were receiving just punishment. The worse off you were the more sinful you must be. In fact, not only would you experience expulsion from human society, but you would feel as an outcast before God. So there was an extra burden placed on someone with leprosy - or what was believed to be leprosy. Not only did lepers have to suffer the torments of this terrible disease but they were also set aside as outcasts and forced to live outside the family and community. In ancient times such expulsion was the equivalent to a death sentence.
This is why the Gospel story today is more than just an account of one individual being healed. The cure has social implications. Broken relationships, isolation and exclusion are now healed. The man can return to his family and the community. He not only has been made a whole person again, but the community itself is again fully restored.
Maybe one reason Jesus responded to the leper in today's Gospel story is that he identified in some way with the man's condition. He too would be an outcast from his family and people. He would, in effect, be declared "unclean" and cast out of the city to be executed. When "examined" by the priests, he would be found unclean, not a true member of the community nor of the people's religion.
Jesus cures the leper with a word and a touch. In many of his other miracles a simple word is sufficient. But here Jesus does the unthinkable. He touches the leper, making himself ritually unclean along with the leper. Jesus is "touched" by the leper's need, but Jesus too is like the leper and the touch identifies him with all lepers.
Jesus wanted to bridge the gap between himself and the leper. And there is a lesson for his disciples here. Whatever has been broken and torn apart in human life, Jesus reaches out to touch.
He does that now through us. So we cannot be uninvolved in the broken world around us where many are kept at a distance because of their race, national origin, lack of education, poverty, physical condition, gender and sexual orientation.
The Gospel today reminds us that through Jesus, we have all been made whole. The parts of our lives we and others would consider untouchable have been touched by Jesus. His compassion for us prompts him to reach out to touch and heal us. What has happened to us, we pass on to others We must not be afraid to reach out and touch those in need of our compassion, understanding and forgiveness.
Jesus is a very difficult model to follow. But we are disciples on a journey of hope. Along the way, we often stumble and sometimes we wander off along the wrong paths. Ours is a journey of becoming whole, of growth, and of learning. It is learning that being his follower is not just something we do. It is what we are. It is learning that Eucharist is not just something that brings us nourishment and healing but rather that which we must always strive to become.