We can marvel at the fact that the Lord never contracted leprosy himself, even though he often came into physical contact with those who had it. We know his contemporaries were struck by his violation of the boundary which the law of Moses prescribed. Our first reading laid before us the requirements of isolation which lepers must make their own for the common good. So it is that the Lord ends the isolation of lepers by himself being personally and physically available to them. And doing so, he swaps places with the leper: whereas the leper had to live in the wilderness and caught Jesus near the city, now it is Jesus who will live in the wilderness and the leper who will live in the city.
The flipside of that boundary violation, as I say, is the Lord’s immunity to deadly illness, whether leprosy or bleeding, fever or sin. Deadly illness simply doesn’t affect the Lord. We know that this immunity of his doesn’t extend to basic human needs. The Lord still felt hungry and thirsty, was sometimes lonely, dirty, and tired. But all that we know about his earthly life tells us that he is immune to deadly illness.
We can therefore say that the Lord only suffers as he wills to suffer. That’s a strange thing to us, who squeal at a pin-prick and cry out at a head-bump. But in the Lord we see someone, we see God, who can rise above all deadly infirmity and yet be present to someone who is suffering with profound compassion. Our Gospel says he “felt sorry” for the leper; we might read that us “gutted”. Our expression, “his heart went out to him,” also captures the thought, that the Lord felt the trouble and distress of this suffering person. So, when he finally does suffer death on the cross, it’s because he freely willed to suffer for us with the same gut-wrenching compassion for all humanity which he felt for this one leper.
More than this, the Lord’s immunity to deadly illness shows us how a human body becomes life-giving for others. Mothers have the best sense of how a human body can be life-giving. All through the pregnancy and infancy, a mother’s body is giving life to the little one, sometimes sacrificially so. We priests have a secondary sense of this reality: when we perform sacred rites, the bodily action conveys the life of Christ to our people. We can go on through many areas of occupation: soldiers and first-responders put their bodies on the line, and so contribute to the well-being and safety of others.
There’s an opportunity now to consider ways in which we can be truly life-giving for others. There are plenty of ways we can be life-sapping and life-withholding. We need no imagination to be death-dealers. But we do need thoughtful creativity to give Christ’s life to another; the life-giving Spirit we received in Confirmation will help us. We need him to show us who needs our help and how best to do that. We know that there has been life given when there is positive change in those who are suffering, especially new hope, when those who need encouragement persevere, and when there is love for all.
We have our Master’s example to be life-giving to others. He was gutted for the leper and changed his life. We shall too allow ourselves to be moved by the plight of others, help them with their needs as best we can, and so give life. We are soon to receive the Lord’s living flesh from this altar. May we become what we consume. We hope that a worthy reception of this great sacrament will make Christ’s life course through our own this week. He will help us to see others as he does. And if we’re not yet worthy to receive the sacrament because of sin, there is life-giving for us too in the sacrament of Reconciliation. That’s when we lay down our lives before God, that he may show us his compassion and mercy once again. With Lent beginning this week, we shall all need to make a good confession, all do penance and good service.
For each of us is both a receiver and a giver of Christ’s life. May all we receive from the Lord now also be given for the good of all.
Fr Paul Rowse, OP Parish Priest