In last week’s gospel had crowds of people seeking to be healed by Jesus. People desperate with no other options available other than endure or die sought out Jesus. They had tried everything available to them and yet their problems remained. I wonder I wonder if those people did not have other options would they have gone to Jesus to be healed. They obviously had heard about his first miracle they believed Jesus could offer them something no other physician or healer could and that was total and complete relief.
In today’s gospel we have a different scene; we have one lone leper who sought Jesus’ healing touch. It is interesting to note this leper by going into the presence of Jesus violated the demands of the law to isolate himself from others. His desperation caused him to not shout out “unclean” as he came into the presence of Jesus but instead he knelt and begged him to heal him. You should note his words to Jesus as he knelt before him – “if you wish you can make me clean.” Jesus moved with pity responded “I do will it – be cleaned.” The nature of God is revealed to us in this gospel scene for God’s approach to suffering is to eliminate it. Yet life has taught us all suffering is not relieved even when we have continually asked God in prayer for it to be relieved.
The touch of Jesus had then and still has the power to remove the effects of sin, disease, evil and by doing so completely change the person who he touches. Over the twenty years of ministry I have prayed with people who are desperately seeking relief from terminal diseases and have seen miracles. I have been present in healing services offered by Fr. Ralph DiOrio and Fr. Francis McNutt and observed the miraculous healing of those seeking the power of God to end their suffering. These experiences have helped me reflect on suffering and the reality of pain and our response to it.
I have a friend whose first response to suffering is to embrace it and seek redemption from it. I will admit my first response is the opposite. I choose to get relief from it and pray for the doctors, medicine and Jesus to cure me of all that suffering. My experience tells me none of us have to actively seek suffering for life will deal us all the suffering we can ever imagine. Yet we continue to pray and we understand the words of Paul when he says “…whatever we have to endure, we must do for the glory of God… (I Cor. 10:31-33). So yes even though God heals today we will continue to experience physical and emotional suffering.
Leprosy is not a physically painful disease because it numbs the nerves so that a person afflicted by the disease cannot feel pain. Without pain they can injure ourselves, lose fingers, toes and lose protruding parts of their body as the disease progresses. We understand pain is an essential part of the human body and when it comes it is our alarm system alerting us to seek help because something is wrong. Pain in itself should be welcomed but when that pain goes on for years eating away at our bodies we like the leper cry for Jesus to heal us.
The greatest pain of the leper in today’s gospel was not physical but it was his separation from the community as dictated by the Levitical law (Lev. 13). Jesus’ touch was significant because it shows us love’s response to suffering is to touch it and remove it.
I have always found it curious that Jesus told the man not to tell anyone about his cure. He was cured. His leprosy was gone and he was told to go purify himself according to the law and present himself to the priests. Those actions restored him to his family, his friends and the entire community. Not to tell anyone had to be a tremendous burden and virtually impossible. He had to be bursting with joy. How could anyone refrain from telling them you have been healed by the touch of Jesus? You could once again join the community and celebrate, love, touch, kiss and dance with those you love.
I can only speculate as to why Jesus would not want this healing not to be revealed at this time. This healing occurs at the beginning of his ministry. Jesus in his own words said he was to go to other towns and villages and proclaim the kingdom of God. He was revealing who he was s the Messiah and revealing God’s love through his words and his touch. Yet he could not refuse to offer compassion to those who were suffering.
I think Jesus had a legitimate concern about this miracle. I saw it in those healing services I witnessed. It seemed that the auditoriums were filled with people who were seeking the healing and not the healer. We have a God who does heal and forgives and desires to make us whole. We also have a God who tells us “seek the Kingdom of God above all else and live righteously and he will give you everything you need” (Mt.6:33 NLT).