Scripture Reflections

Saturday, February 11, 2012



FEBRUARY 12, 2012

Leviticus 13: 1-2, 44-46; Psalm 32; I Corinthians 10: 31-11:1; Mark 1: 40-45

I recall an incident that happened when I was a student of theology, during my seminary days. Our theologate was at Rishikesh, the sacred place of Hindu tradition and spirituality. One fine evening, I sat along the bank of river Ganges, observing the gentle flow of the river and watching the rituals Hindu devotees perform in the river. After a while, I noticed a man who sat across me, intently looking at me. He appeared to be an aristocratic, a man in his forties, and was well dressed. When I smiled at him, he approached me and greeted me, inquired my name and profession. When I said, I am a Catholic undergoing training to be a priest; he sat beside me and asked if he can talk with me for a while. Then he took off his shoes. I was surprised and shocked. Suddenly, I sensed the stench of rotting flesh, and I could not stand there any more. His feet were mutilated, toes missing, soles oozing puss… Oh! My God, I can still feel the overpowering stench filling my nostrils and gushing to the lungs! This man was suffering from leprosy. The reason he approached me was to see if I can help him find an institution that cares for people afflicted with leprosy. He particularly inquired I would recommend him to the Mother Teresa Sisters’ community. He had been wandering around with the hope of finding a place of care and acceptance.

In the Gospel for our reflection today Jesus encounters a leper who puts His hope and trust in Him. He believes that “if Jesus wants to, He can make him clean”. From the first reading we heard the grim situation of anyone afflicted with leprosy, that he/she should be reported to the priests who would pronounce him/her to be unclean. Then the afflicted person is forced to live in seclusion, isolated from his family and friends. A very grim situation, indeed!

Yet, you may be in shock, to realize that all of us might already be afflicted with the “dreaded” decease of leprosy. I, for one, find within myself, some telling signs of leprosy. The medical dictionary defines leprosy as an infectious disease characterized by disfiguring skin sores, nerve damage, and progressive debilitation. All forms of the disease eventually cause peripheral neurological damage (nerve damage in the arms and legs) which causes sensory loss in the skin and muscle weakness. Yes, lack of sensation or insensitivity and mutilation within me, as well as isolation/seclusion from the community, and uncleanliness are the visible signs of leprosy that I find within myself.

Sensory Loss: A person afflicted with leprosy experiences the loss of sensory perceptions. He is incapable of experiencing pain, heat, cold and so on. People with long-term leprosy may lose the use of their hands or feet due to repeated injury resulting from lack of sensation. There are so many of us who are incapable of knowing the pains, sufferings, tears and sorrows of our brothers and sisters. All around us we find people who are hungry, sick, in misery and agony. But the more I am exposed to such realities, I tend to take them for granted, as normal realities that ought be. Thus, I do not even notice, much less do I respond to the cries and tears, needs and deprivations of my brothers and sisters. Do I lack compassion? This is sign of leprosy!

Mutilation: Deformity and mutilations are the most visible signs of leprosy. Physically, I may be fit and perfect, handsome/beautiful and healthy. Yet, I may be living with deformed views, mutilated ideologies, short tempers, wounded feelings, fractured mindset, deformed attitudes and broken relationships. It could be that I do not even realize that I have such deformities and imperfections. But every time I open my mouth, people might get hurt. As I move about doing my business, people might sense the stench of arrogance and pride. How wonderfully I might manage to smile, I might still remain un approachable. How great I might think of me, my attitudes might be too mean and construed. Do I hurt people often? Do I humiliate and disrespect others? Do I have lost the original grace that I received in baptism? Have I deformed the image of God in me? If so, I admit, I’m afflicted with leprosy.

Isolation: As we heard from the first reading, a person afflicted with leprosy is kept secluded from the rest of the society. Do I discriminate against some of my brothers and sisters? Are there people in my family or community with whom I find it hard to live and work with? Do I keep off from someone? Do I feel uncomfortable in the presence of anyone? Are there people in my family who keep off from the Church? Do I ever feel that I am not wanted, I am not being respected, I am not being cared for in my family or community? Do I feel the pain of loneliness? Am I carrying the burden of isolation any time of my life? Do I lack self-esteem? Do I consider that I am good for nothing, that I have nothing to do with the family concerns or the community activities? If so, I need to be treated for spiritual leprosy.

Unclean!: In the Biblical times a leper was considered unclean. The priest declares him unclean. Whenever he comes across people in the society, the leper was to cry out “unclean, unclean!”. This was not simply because of the unhygienic situation that the leper was in, but more so because of the belief that leprosy is a punishment from God, and as a result, it is a manifestation that the person is a sinner. Jesus has made it clear that sin defiles a person. It is not the external beauty and physical hygiene that makes a person clean, but the divine virtues and spiritual worth. Yes, every sin I commit, I become unclean… Do I live in sinful situations? Do I harbor evil thoughts and make evil designs? Are my words and dealings clean? Are my attitudes straight and aspirations transparent? Do I engage in corrupt practices and deceit? Is my conscience as clean as my hands?

If I exhibit the signs and effects of leprosy, what shall I do? We heard from the first reading, let the person report it to the priest. Yes, let us report it to the High-priest Jesus Christ. Let us report to Him the symptoms of growing insensitivity to the needs and pains of others, the mutilation and deformity of my character, the pain of isolation and loneliness and my unclean conscience and life-style. Unlike the priests of the Old-testament who declared them unclean and forced them to seclusion, Jesus our high priest now will declare us to be clean and re-integrate us into the community of God and His people. Jesus effects this healing by reaching out and touching my deformed-decayed life. Wonderful indeed, He dares to touch me. He wills to heal me. If only I come to Him and declare myself unclean! Today in the sacraments of reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist Jesus does just that. He washes me in Divine grace and makes me whole.

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