Jesus Heals the Leper

Gospel Reflection for January 8, 2021

Today's reading is placed shortly after the "Sermon On The Mount'," where Jesus astounds the crowds by teaching with surprising "authority." Immediately afterwards, our Lord shows those following him that His authority manifests in deeds as well, by catching a literal boatload of fish, and now, healing a "man full of leprosy."

Though we don't hear much about it these days, in the ancient world, Leprosy was an insidious and incurable disease. According to the National Institutes of Health, leprosy is a disease that has been known since Biblical times that causes skin sores, nerve damage, and muscle weakness that gets worse over time. It is caused by a bacteria that is not very contagious and more common in children than adults. It is common in many countries worldwide and can be treated with antibiotics, which makes isolating people in leper colonies no longer needed.

Since antibiotics are historically a recent invention, leprosy has a history of causing wide spread devastation and panic with no hope of recovery. This is especially true in areas that had extreme poverty and unsanitary living conditions. In fact, this was one reason that St. Mother Teresa left a convent in Calcutta, India and started a ministry to the poor that were living in the streets there in 1948. Her work with the lepers, along with unwed mothers, abandoned babies, mentally ill, and others resulted her being awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.

But, why do we hear so much about Leprosy in scripture?

In the context of the ancient Jewish religious practices, both physical and spiritual purity were of utmost importance. Leprosy was seen as the ultimate example on uncleanliness. The interesting thing is that despite there being no known cure, Moses provided a way for those cured of this disease to be brought back into both the community and synagogue. In the Church Age, Leprosy has become synonymous with the destructive nature of sin in our lives. In that understanding, the only cure is the miracle touch of Christ and His saving grace.