6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jesus is the Great Physician that makes us all whole and clean
Have any of you had dealings with those who have the disease of leprosy? I certainly haven't as its very rare in the UK and in fact only occurs in certain parts of the world today, but in the past it was devastating. We find it recorded in the Scriptures as an affliction that cut off people from contact with normal society. We realise, of course, that the term is being used to cover a number of communicable diseases all of which are spread through contact with others. Today we would define the form that Jesus healed as Hansen's disease, which is horribly disfiguring! There was of course no known cure and in many societies these poor people had a horrible time not only as result of disease but fear and misunderstanding.
Those who were identified as Lepers were isolated from normal contact and publically identified by separate dwelling places and distinctive dress, including in the middle ages the famous lepers bell which they carried and rang to warn of their approach. But were they always avoided? During the Christian Middle Ages we find new evidence to hint at another viewpoint. For example, in England, many Leper hospitals were built and endowed with people to help look after them, most of these hospitals were very near cross roads and often at the edge of big towns and cities.
Archaeological evidence from particular excavations shows that at least in some cases Lepers were tolerated more than we had assumed, and they travelled more widely, many of them became pilgrims journeying to find healing. The fact they were buried with other townspeople shows a degree of acceptance by the community and their lives were linked in spiritual terms to a journey of redemptive suffering like Christ.
This is a far cry from the leper shunned and rejected in other societies, this is much more like the Christ of the Gospels who not only heals the disease but also the complex layers of spiritual and internal problems that accompany the hurts done to others. The Christ who spent his divine energy in healing the lepers, continues to do so but challenges us to look into the secret places of our own lives so that they too may be made whole and clean.
We may not be physically lepers, but our attitudes, actions and life can be deformed, off beam, at the heart of our spiritual life there can be another form of contagion and brokenness. This the Lord can make whole and clean again. As we begin Great Lent perhaps these words of Paul might be a remedy that we ought to try: 'Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do,do everything for the glory of God.Avoid giving offense, whether to the Jews or Greeks or the church of God'. (I Cor 10: 31-31)
Coptic Prayer for Healing
"O Lord Almighty, Healer of our souls and bodies, who puts down and raises up, who chastises and heals also, visit now in Your mercy our brother (or sister) who is ill. Stretch forth Your arm that is full of healing and health, and raise him/her up from this bed and cure this illness. Put away the spirit of disease and every malady and pain and fever. And if he/she has committed sins and transgressions, grant remission and forgiveness, because of Your love for mankind."
St Francis de Sales
Do not look forward to what may happen tomorrow; the same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and every day. Either He will shield you from suffering, or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, then. Put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations, and say continually: "The Lord is my strength and my shield. My heart has trusted in him and I am helped. He is not only with me but in me, and I in Him."
Do not wish to be anything but what you are, and try to be that perfectly.
From Martin Buber
Tales of the Hasidim
With the Sinners The Baal Shem said:
"I let the sinners come close to me, if they are not proud. I keep the scholars and the sinless away from me if they are proud. For the sinner knows that he is a sinner, and therefore considers himself base - God is with him, for He dwelleth with them in the midst of their uncleanness.' But concerning him who prides himself on the fact that he is unburdened by sin, God says, as we know from the Gemara: "There is not enough room in the world for myself and him".
Fr Robin Gibbons is an Eastern Rite Catholic Chaplain for the Melkites in the UK. He is also an Ecumenical Canon of Christ Church, Oxford.