Anytime this Gospel comes around I make a point of what the leper said to Jesus. It was, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” That showed strong faith. It also showed what a great impression Jesus made on people. This man, after seeing and listening to him was convinced Jesus could do what no one had ever done: which was to give an instantaneous complete cure of leprosy. What a powerful impression Jesus made on all who saw him!
What I usually point out is that for a Jew leprosy was a double whammy. It was a sickness infecting a man or woman’s fingers, toes, noses, in time making them fall off. “Nostrils without noses” would describe most faces of lepers.
In addition to its being that severe disease, for a Jew it was also an uncleanness that banished him or her from the temple and synagogue. There was no more joining others in prayer.
It is significant that the man in today’s Gospel didn’t ask to be cured. No, his disease was something he had learned to live with. He asked to be made clean, because what he missed most was coming together with others to pray to the heavenly Father.
This week I received a book describing the work of a group of Irish nuns. It told the story of the Columban Sisters in Korea, and I enjoyed the book immensely, since I knew the nuns whose work the book documented. For instance, it spoke about Sister Enda, a doctor who ran the Columban Sisters’ Hospital at Mokpo in Southwest Korea. When Sister Enda heard about thousands of lepers who were confined to a stretch or red mud flats she set aside every other Sunday for them. Arriving with an ambulance full of supplies, she treated one and all for ten hours.
One time I was visiting the nuns’ hospital, and Sister Enda had me accompany her one Sunday. I heard confessions for three hours. The lepers’ sins and trouble were so similar to those of people in America that I forgot the people were Koreans. Then, the sins of envy, disobedience, and fighting were so much like healthy people’s sins that I forgot the people were lepers. All of us children of God are pretty much the same.