All he wants is to belong. To be welcomed into the warm embrace of his family and friends, to be able to join his community in prayer on the Sabbath.
To have his life back again, the way it once was.
But all that had been taken away from him the day the priest pronounced him unclean, outcast, an exile.
We do not know his name, or anything at all about him. He is identified only by his affliction: he is a leper.
And his life must be lived at the margins of what had been his world.
He is forced, by law, to depend on the mercy of those who need to keep him at a distance. Unclean, he must cry out, and ring his bell, and watch the fear in the eyes of those who glance his way, perhaps in pity, perhaps in disgust.
And then the unimaginable happens.
Jesus passes by, on one of the first of his Galilean journeys of preaching and healing. And seeing him from the prescribed distance, the leper comes to understand that deliverance just may be at hand.
His desperation makes him bold, willing to risk the penalty of disobedience to the law of exclusion.
He approaches Jesus, kneels before him, urges him: “If you choose,” he says, “you can make me clean again.”
And Jesus, himself disobeying the same law, reaches out his hand and makes physical contact with the one who has not been allowed to touch another human in what seemed like forever.
“I do choose,” Jesus responds. “Be made clean.”
And the outcast one is healed and made whole again.
This is the story the Church presents to us on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. It’s a story particularly meaningful for our time, when our world seems more divided than ever between “them” and “us.”
In the end, it’s a story about belonging.
And the question for us this day, as we anticipate our Lenten journey: who do we choose to allow in, and exclude from, our circle of caring?
Jesus, your dream was that we are all members of God’s family, belonging in love to you and one another. Help us make your dream our reality.
Sister Mary E. Mc Cormick, SC
Sr. Mary is a spiritual and retreat director, writer, and presenter on topics of spirituality and the Charity charism. Currently the Congregation’s Novice/Vocation/Candidate Director, she has served in congregational leadership, formation ministry, education, and as a missionary in the Bahamas and in Arizona.
Image: Christ Healing a Leper, Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, c. 1650 – c. 1655