Saturday, February 10, 2018

On Touching Lepers

Here's the homily I preached at Our lady of the Annunciation in Queensbury, NY this weekend.

There is perhaps no more stark a contrast between the Old Testament and the New, than the partial revelation of God’s will through Moses and Aaron and the fullness of revelation in Christ Jesus in the answer to the question: “How should you treat a leper?”

Leprosy was a frightening thing, for as soon as someone spotted a scab or a pustule or a blotch, the poor leper was dragged before the priest who was declare him unclean and instruct him to be cast out of the camp, commanding that when anyone approached the leper was to yell “unclean! unclean!” in order to drive them away.

The filthy, the sinful and the unclean were to be exiled, excommunicated and condemned to a hellish solitary existence, lest anyone get close enough to catch their sin.

But it’s different with Jesus, moved with pity, he breaks the old law, fulfills it…that we might understand God completely. They must have gasped, maybe some of then screamed when he stretched out his hands and touched the leper. Touched his oozing open sore and said three little words: “Be made clean.”
And then the Lord did another remarkable thing, Remember how in the old law when you found someone unclean you sent them to the priest who condemned and exiled them. Jesus turns to the healed leper (I think he may have had a smile on his face while he did it) and said: Go and show yourself to the priest.


The priest, who probably recognized him as that stinking leper, that unclean wretch, would have been amazed and was probably the first of those who were forced to believe in the face of this miracle.

That’s how Jesus treated lepers. He did not cast them out, did not run away or make them feel unworthy. He touched them.

And who are the lepers in our lives? The ones we look upon as unclean?

Maybe that lady down the street who was married three times and now is living with that guy half her age who no one speaks to when they see her at Price Chopper and whom everyone avoids at Aviation Mall. Do we cast her out like Aaron, or touch her like Jesus?

Or that kid your son went to school with who never graduated because he got into drugs and his folks threw him out and he’s never really held a job and I swear he must steal money to keep buying those pills. And when you see him outside Friendly’s in the cold and he walks up to you with his hand out, are you Aaron throwing him away, or Jesus stretching out his hand and touching him?

Or that Mother of yours who said those hateful things and is still half inebriated even through she’s old, and just as foul mouthed as she was before your father left her. And now she’s in that nursing home and no one wants to go see her. Do you cast her out, or seek her out, stretch out your hand and touch her.

All those sinners, all those folks who smell, who reek from dysfunction, whose skin is rotting from desolation and fear and isolation. Do we cast them out like Aaron, or do we seek them out and embrace them like Jesus?

Jesus who came to seek out and save the lost, Jesus who touched the leper and forgave the sinner and ate with the unclean.

Jesus who calls Matthew the tax collector to be his disciple, who lets the sinful woman anoint his feet with her hair, who one right after another tells the stories of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. Jesus who calls the notorious Zacchaeus to come down so he can take him to dinner, whom they call “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” and whom the Pharisees hate because he ate with the unclean Levi.

Jesus, who looks down from the Cross at us in our brokenness and in our stinking selfishness and sin, who reaches down and touches us deep within with his Body and Blood and says “as I have loved you, so you are to love them.”


They are waiting for you out there, sometimes far away and sometimes in the same house where you live. All the lepers. And all you need to do is touch them with his love. “Be made clean.”