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Jesus Sets the Example of How to Treat Those Who Society Rejects

Little gestures can give us better insight into a person’s character than big ones. We have a very good example of this in today’s Gospel as Jesus cured the man from leprosy. Jesus touched the leper before he cured him. Seems like a small thing in itself but when placed in its context is was a big thing. It is small gestures like that which affirm the dignity and value of the human person.

In biblical times leprosy we greatly feared as it was a very contagious disease. When one contracted the disease the person was expelled from the community. This was done as a way of protecting the community against becoming infected. Lepers were also excluded from temple worship because they were considered ritually unclean, as was anybody who came into contact with them. They were both social and religious outcasts, rejected and despised by the people, and believed themselves rejected and despised by God, too. 

Jesus was fully aware of all of this. Nevertheless, he cut through the religious and social thinking of the time. Jesus allowed the leper to approach him. Then Jesus did the unthinkable as he reached out and touched him before he cured him. Why did Jesus do the very thing that was forbidden by the Law? That simple gesture, a touch, shows Jesus’ great compassion for the outcast, the sinner, anyone who has been pushed to the margins of society.

Jesus touched the leper that he might show that all things are clean to the one who is clean himself. He showed that external uncleanness does not defile the clean of heart. Jesus touched him to teach us to despise no one.

That simple gesture would have meant the world to the leper. The worst suffering that a leper endured was not the leprosy itself, but the pain of being rejected by everyone. Jesus’ touch was a sign of welcome and healed his sense of being dirty and unworthy.

Through this account Jesus stretches our capacity for compassion. He challenges our idea of love. As his disciples we have been empowered to reach out to those who are suffering the pain of rejection. 

Looking at Jesus we see how the Christian Community should deal with sinners and people society rejects. Who are the lepers of our day? We know how Jesus would treat them. How do we treat them?

— Father Dennis, February 14, 2021