Some years ago I had the privilege of visiting the Daughters of Mary and Joseph who work in Ghana. It was while there that I saw first hand the effects of Leprosy. Part of their time was working in a settlement that grew up beside a Leprosarium, a place that cares for those who contracted Hansen’s disease, which we know as Leprosy.
It is a chronic disease caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae and Mycobacterium lepromatosis. Left untreated, leprosy can be progressive, causing permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs and eyes. Although the mode of transmission of Hansen’s disease remains uncertain, most investigators think that M. leprae is usually spread from person to person in respiratory droplets. The disease attacks the nerves and leaves the sufferer without sensation so they do not feel pain. Therefore, they can easily injure their limbs causing serious wounds and deformities, which if left untreated, can even result in amputation. Because there was no cure until the 1950s, leprosy became a highly stigmatised disease. The physical ailments and deformities caused rejection resulting in low self esteem.
In today’s Gospel Jesus is approached by a person with leprosy, asking to be cured. He has faith that Jesus can heal him. At the time of Jesus those with leprosy were not allowed to come into contact with other human beings or their property. Jesus was “moved with pity,” which I think is a better translation than “he felt sorry for him.” “Of course I want to”, he says. He stretches out his hand and touches him and he is healed.
Bishop Robert Barron says this in his meditation on today’s gospel:
In our sickness, our weakness, our shame, our sin, our oddness—lots of us feel like this leper. We feel as though we’re just not worthy. But whatever trouble we are in, we have to come to Jesus in the attitude of worship. He is the Lord and we’re not. This is the key step in getting our lives in order: right praise. Consider the leper’s beautiful plea, essential in any act of petitionary prayer: “If you wish, you can make me clean.” He is not demanding; he is acknowledging the lordship of Jesus, his sovereignty. “Thy will be done” is always the right attitude in any prayer.