Friday after Epiphany or 11 January – Gospel

Commentary on Luke 5:12-16 

Leprosy was one of the most feared diseases of the ancient world. It was known to be contagious which made the leper a very dangerous person. As a result, the leper was a social outcast, feared and rejected by all. The leper had always to warn people around of his or her presence and had to keep a clear distance away from others. What was particularly tragic is that sometimes the person might not have been suffering from leprosy at but from some other similar-looking skin disease which was, in fact, not contagious at all.
In today’s Gospel we find a leper approaching Jesus, falling prostrate before him. His request is full of faith and trust in the power of Jesus. “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” Obviously he had heard stories of Jesus many healings, some of which are recounted by Luke in this part of his gospel. Jesus responds immediately. He reaches out, touches the man and says: “I do will it. Be made clean.” He was healed immediately. The touching is very significant. No ordinary person would dare to touch a leper. Think of the inner healing that must have resulted from the touch, that moment of physical contact. Touch is something we all need and are so often deprived of. We, too, are in need of healing, including the healing that comes from touch. Let us put our trust in Jesus that he can also bring us healing.
Jesus then gives him two commands. First, he is not to go around telling people about what happened to him. This story follows Mark’s version very closely and in Mark Jesus often demands the concealing of his true identity. At this stage, he does not want people to identify him with the Messiah because of the preconceived ideas which most people had and these were very different from the kind of Messiah that Jesus is. This will not become fully clear until his passion, death and resurrection.
Second, the healed leper is told to go to the priests and make the prescribed offering of thanksgiving for his healing. This was also, one presumes, a time for him to be officially declared as free of the disease. He could now freely re-enter society. The healing of someone like a leper went far beyond the mere physical healing. It was a total re-integration of his life, a real re-making of the whole person.
We may well ask, who are the lepers in our own day? Of course, there are still many parts of the world where leprosy has not been eradicated. But in every society there are people who are treated as lepers, people that no one wants to mix with, people who are ostracised or marginalised for one reason or another. There are the victims of HIV/AIDS that people are afraid to have contact with. There are the homeless, people we walk past in the street every day and hardly notice. There are the victims of addictions – drugs legal and illegal, alcoholics. People who are excluded on the basis of race or religion. The mentally and physically disabled. We might also look at those who are effectively treated as lepers in our family, our place of work, our social gatherings.
There is no place in our society, still less in our church, for lepers of any kind. The world of Jesus is a totally inclusive one.

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