6th Sunday: “He Touched Me.” Mark 1:40-45
The disease of leprosy in Jesus’ time was very disturbing. A leper was isolated from the community and from his family and friends. In the Gospel, we see that a leper took a risk and showed himself to Jesus in public and the Scriptures state, “Jesus was moved with pity” and He stretched out His hand touched the leper and he was healed.
Jesus dramatically identified himself with the sufferer who in total rejection and isolation trusting in Jesus. The irony here is that Jesus risked becoming “unclean” Himself in order to make the leper clean. Just as Jesus stretched out His hand to the leper and touched him and made him whole, Jesus stretched out His hands on the cross to make us whole.
There was a photo of Pope Francis that went viral on the internet a few years ago. It was a moving and powerful image of Jesus’ compassion for the powerless and the poor. In Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Pope Francis tenderly embraced, kissed, and prayed over a severely disfigured man. Riva, 52-year-old man, recounted, “The Pope touched my face and when he was doing it, I only felt love but to me, it seemed like an eternity.”
Now go back some 800 years to another Francis, St. Francis of Assisi, who encountered a leper on the road. One day, Francis was praying to the Lord and he received this response: “Francis, everything you have loved greatly and desire to have, you must give up, in order to know God’s will. Because, once you begin doing this, what before seemed delightful and sweet will be unbearable and bitter; and what before had made you shudder will offer you great sweetness and enormous delight.” One day, Francis was riding his horse near Assisi and he met a leper. Even though he usually hated lepers, he made himself dismount, and gave him a coin, and kissed the hand of the leper. After a few days, he moved to a shelter of lepers, and — taking with him a large amount of money — he called the lepers and kissed their hands and shared the money with each of them. When he left there, what before had been bitter — that is: to see and touch lepers — was turned into sweetness. With the help of God’s grace, Francis became a servant and friend of the lepers and he stayed with the lepers and served them with humility.
This real story of Francis reminds us that, in order to follow Jesus, we must stand with the lepers of today: they are the forgotten, the voiceless, the poor, and the marginalized. “Our church community should be seen as a hospital for sinners, not as a hotel for Saints!” At present around the world, we are facing different kinds of modern-day leprosy, namely, the COVID-19 pandemic. Our challenge is to reach out to our helping hands with the touch of love, mercy, and compassion especially for those who are the poor, forgotten, and the families who are suffering from the COVID-19 virus.
We all need healing from some kind of leprosy that separates us from ourselves, from others, and from God. Healing is a mystery! The deepest healing that Jesus came to bring us is not skin deep but at the level of our relationship with God. All we can do — like a leper with strong faith — is approach Jesus and ask for our own healing. And like Jesus, we can touch and heal others. We can prepare to receive these gifts through faith, through prayer, and through openness to the power in creation that heals.
Jesus calls every one of us to destroy the walls that separate us from others and to welcome the outcasts and the untouchables of society. God’s loving hand must reach out to them through us. Jesus wants us to touch their lives. Let us pass beyond the narrow circles of our friends and peers and try to relate to those, who may be outside the bounds of polite society. Let us re-examine the barriers we have created and approach God with hearts that are ready to welcome the outcasts in our society. Let us remember the words of St. Mother Teresa, “I see God in every human being. When I wash a leper’s wounds, I feel I am nursing God Himself.”