Today’s reading was Mark 1:40-45
40 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”
41 Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!”42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.
43 Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 44 “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”45 Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.
I remember when I first pondered this story being struck by the fact that Jesus touched the leper. We know, from other stories in the New Testament, that Jesus can heal “remotely” but here he chooses to touch, and I think there’s a reason for that. After my reflection on this point, I wrote my own narrative version, which I’ll share with you today.
The Leper’s Story
I haven’t been feeling myself recently. That’s a sort of joke we lepers share. It helps hide the hurt, you know, a joke. But it was true too. I had been getting worse, especially in the fingers. I had to be even more careful eating than usual. Didn’t want to mistake my finger for a piece of chicken.
You try to hide it at first. You don’t tell anyone, not even your family, But, of course, in time they notice. The sores can only be hidden for so long. Then you try and hide it from people outside, because they take you away. They take you away. From your wife who caresses you so gently. From your children that you clutch to your chest and tickle with your beard. Away so that they can’t get it. From your home that you might have built with your own hands, before…
Anyway, I heard about this carpenter who was preaching. I was a carpenter by trade, before it all happened, before they took me away. All the people were talking about him.
“He heals people,” they said, “He tells demons to feel and they do.” I thought it might be worth going to see him, seeing as he was a carpenter and all.
One of the strange things about leprosy is that they say you lose feeling. It’s not really true though. Yes, your nerve ends die and you lose your sense of touch, but you don’t lose feeling. At least, I didn’t. I felt more than I had ever felt before. Felt like crying most of the time. Felt like I loved my wife more than ever. Felt now that I was a stranger to my own children. Felt rejected, Felt hurt. Felt like dying. But that’s another strange thing about leprosy. It doesn’t kill you. Just makes life not worth living, like a cruel practical joke that keeps going too far.
So, I walked to see the carpenter. I liked walking because my legs were still strong. It might be only a matter of time before they get weak like my arms, but until then I would walk and I would enjoy it. You have so little to be proud of when your body is wasting away. When mothers call their children inside as you approach and won’t even meet your eyes. When your friends look embarrassed and conversations are very short. My body was still large, but inside I was getting smaller and smaller.
I fought through the crowds. Well, actually people got out of the way when they saw it was me coming through. Didn’t want me to touch them, to brush against their clothes. Then I was in the clear and standing in front of him. I expected him to look angry, to turn away and keep talking to the “clean” people. But he didn’t. He stopped mid-sentence and looked straight at me. That was unusual; people usually try to look the other way, or look down, or something, but he looked me right in the eyes. He looked as though he understood, that was it. That was what made it different. He looked as though he knew what it felt like, to be shunned, to be rejected, to be treated so unfairly.
Then he touched me. I almost jumped with shock. No one touches a leper, no one. But he did. Just reached out his hand and touched me. If only he knew what that meant to me, the warmth of a human hand after so long.
“Be clean,” he said and I tingled all over. Then I looked down at myself. I felt my own tears drop, splashing on my hand. Then I looked up slowly, at the man who made me feel again.