Out of nowhere, a leper «comes up to Jesus». According to the Law, he can’t come into contact with anyone. He’s «unclean» and has to live isolated. He can never enter the Temple. How could God welcome a being so repugnant into God’s presence? His destiny is to live in exclusion. Thus says the Law.
In spite of everything, this hopeless leper dares to challenge all the norms. He knows that he’s doing wrong. That’s why he goes down on his knees. He doesn’t dare to speak with Jesus face to face. From down on the ground, he makes this plea: «If you are willing, you can cleanse me». He knows that Jesus can cure him, but will he want to cleanse him? Would Jesus dare to pull him out of the exclusion that he has been subjected to in God’s name?
It’s surprising to see the emotion that the leper’s approach raises in Jesus. He isn’t horrified nor does he draw back. In the face of this poor man’s situation, «he is moved from the depths of his heart». Gentleness overflows. How could he not want to cleanse him, being one who goes about moved by God’s compassion towards God’s sons and daughters who are most defenseless and rejected?
Without a moment’s hesitation, «he extends his hand» toward that man and «touches» his skin that is despised by the pure. He knows that it’s forbidden by the Law and that with this gesture he’s reaffirming the transgression that the leper initiated. Only compassion moves him: «I am willing. Be cleansed».
This is what the God who is incarnate in Jesus wants: to cleanse the world of exclusions that go against the Father’s compassion. It isn’t God who excludes, but our laws and institutions. It isn’t God who marginalizes: it’s us. From now on, all will see clearly that no one should be excluded in Jesus’ name.
To follow him means to not be horrified in the face of any unclean man or woman. We can’t withdraw our welcome from any «excluded». For Jesus, what’s most important is the person who suffers and not the norm. To constantly put the norm in first place is the best way to lose the sensitivity of Jesus in the face of the despised and rejected, the best way to live without compassion.
There are few places where Jesus’ Spirit is more recognizable than in those people who freely offer support and friendship to defenseless prostitutes, who accompany people with AIDS who have been forgotten by everyone, who defend gays who can’t live their condition with dignity… All of this reminds us that everyone fits in God’s heart.
José Antonio Pagola
Translator: Fr. Jay VonHandorf