26 June 2009. Friday of the 12th Week in Ordinary Time
Genesis 17, 1-22; Psalm 128; Matthew 8, 1-4
As a Jesuit novice, I was assigned to Tala Leprosarium for my hospital trials in 1990. I was cleaning their wounds with a disinfectant, using long forceps. But they never complained about pain. Since leprosy kills the nerves, they couldn’t feel any physical affliction. But emotionally, they are one of the most wounded. It is not anymore an incurable disease, thanks to MDT, but many still consider it an abomination. Outside of my hospital duty, I would talk to them. I would visit a building in the compound where they assemble Christmas lights to earn something since many of the family and friends cut off whatever is left of their relationship.
In biblical times, leprosy is not just the typical nodular, tubercular or anaesthetic leprosy we know today as Hansen’s disease. The Hebrew term covers a wide range of skin diseases such as an-an, buni, alipunga or had-had. Anyone covered with psoriasis, thus, was considered a leper. The discoloration of the skin turning it white, is what was referred to as “a leper as white as snow.” In the Book of Numbers (12, 9ff), the Lord made Miriam, a ‘snow-white leper’ as a punishment for her jealousy over Moses’ superior position. She said, “Is it through Moses alone that the Lord speaks? Does he not speak through us also? Any such skin disease renders the sufferer unclean. The leper in the Gospel was banished from the fellowship of men and women; he must dwell alone outside the camp; and he must ward everyone of his presence with the cry, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ The leper had not only to bear the physical pain of his disease; he had to bear the mental anguish and the heartbreak of being completely ostracized from human society.
What can we learn from the Gospel today? We can learn how Jesus heals. First, He talks to the person kindly. Many doctors know that a soothing and comforting word to the patient helps in the healing process. Many of our wounds, even physically, will have some bearing on our psychological life.
Second, He touches them compassionately. Jesus simply ignored the law that stipulates that He would be ritually unclean. To Him, compassion is what the leper needs more than anything else in the world. So how do face people who wounded us? Overflowing compassion. Eternal forgiveness: seventy-times-seven. Meaning, forgive all the time. If we allow our anger and our pain to control and determine our lives and our decisions, it would be difficult for us to grow and glow. I got a text message: "Never give the devil a ride -- he will always want to drive."
That is why one of our corporal works of charity is to visit the sick. It is not easy to go to hospitals and share with those with affliction. But our family and friends need both our kind words and our tender touch.
For many who are conscious about one’s appearance. we can heal by praying. Think about a text message: “Are you wrinkled with burden? Come to the church for a face-lift.”