Did you notice what the Leper said to Jesus? ‘If you wish, you can make me clean’. Doesn’t that strike you as sort-of odd? Wouldn’t it make more sense if he said, ‘if you wish, you can heal me’? After all, Leprosy is a disease.
That’s because – as bad as the DISEASE of leprosy was to endure – it was the MORAL, SPIRITUAL, and SOCIAL ramifications of the disease that were there hardest to bear. Leprosy was seen as a curse of God – for having done something against the law of God… so to have the disease, you were considered impure. Anytime you got near people, you had to cover your mouth (like this) and shout out ‘UNCLEAN, UNCLEAN!’ to make sure they knew not to touch you – because if they did touch you, then THEY would become spiritually impure – they would be unclean as well.
Because of that, Lepers were shunned. People avoided them as much as possible. Lepers were expected to live outside the city. They lived in deserted places where they didn’t have to endure the constant indignation of people turning up their noses at them and running away. Put yourself in that position for a minute – really – what would life be like if you were a leper?
This time of the year, I sometimes get dry patches of skin – on my elbows or knees. It’s probably just dry skin – brought on by the low humidity during the winter. However, if I lived in Jesus’ time, and if anybody SAW those patches of dry skin – I would be brought before the Priest, and he would look at it and declare me to be UNCLEAN! Like it said in our first reading then – I’d have to put away my good clothes and wear torn clothes – I’d have to mess up my hair and beard, so people would recognize that I’m unclean… then I would have to live outside the city for a period of seven days. At the end of that time, I would go back to the priest and show myself.
In the book of Leviticus, we read, 'And the priest shall look on him again the seventh day: and, behold, if the plague be somewhat dark, and the plague spread not in the skin, the priest shall pronounce him clean; it is but a scab.’
That would be our hope. If you or I were a Leper – every minute of every day, we would be waiting, hoping, PRAYING for that glorious day when we stand before the Priest and he says those words… “You are clean”.
OK –so what’s all this have to do with you and me?
We are all Unclean. Every one of us is morally and spiritually impure – because hard as we try- we can’t follow the law of God – not completely. We try – but we just can’t. For that reason, all of us are impure and forced to live on the outside the garden of Eden. Like Adam and Eve – we were thrown out of Paradise and forced to live as an outcast. Whenever we approach God, we shout UNCLEAN, UNCLEAN – recognizing that we don’t have the right to approach God.
At the start of Mass, we purposely prayed the Confetior – you know – I confess to almighty God… that prayer is OUR shout to God recognizing that we aren’t worthy!... we recognize that we are Unclean.
Fortunately, Jesus is reaching out His hand to you right now. Through the hands of the Church, He reaches out to Baptize you – to confirm you – to heal you – to feed you - and to forgive your sins. The Sacraments of the Church are the main places where Jesus reaches out with a human hand to physically touch you and me.
Notice what happens next: right after Jesus touches the leper… it says the word spread like wildfire…it was like a viral-video on youtube… the whole thing became so publicized that Jesus could no longer enter a town openly. HE remained outside in deserted places. Did you notice the irony? Jesus --switched places with the Leper! The leper was clean now, so he could live in town – but Jesus was now forced to stay outside of the town.
He does the same for you and me. He reaches out to touch us – and he’ll touch us right where we are most unclean. He’ll reach right into depths of our sin and say those words we’ve been waiting, hoping, PRAYING to hear: “I do will it. Be made clean”. And then Jesus will swap places with us.
Here’s your new bumper sticker: If Jesus is your co-pilot, swap seats.