Today’s gospel stands out from other healing accounts for its sustained focus on the emotions of the two people involved—those of Jesus and of the leper. Indeed, the exact nature of Jesus’s emotion is debated; some early manuscripts have “moved with pity,” whereas others have “moved with anger.” Most scholars believe “angry” was original because it is easier to explain how scribes were more likely to change “angry” to “moved with pity” rather than vice versa.  But the Lectionary has adopted “moved with pity,” the “easier” reading rather than the original reading. At any rate, there is no doubt about the leper’s feelings, though we might not immediately appreciate the depths of those feelings or why the leper is so insistent.

We can too quickly pass over the tremendous desire that animates the leper and impels him to practically demand that Jesus heal him. The ordeal of people in these kinds of desperate situations reminds us that this leper did not simply “have a skin problem.” The Gospel does not criticize the laws of purity that governed the life of Jews in those days. Every community has systems of belonging, and has the right to protect itself from contagion. Then, as today, distancing was a safeguard against infection. But the isolation in this case was extremely strict and brought pain to individuals and their families. The leper’s problem was not primarily about his skin but his ability to live as a person recognized by others in the community.

What can the healing of this poor isolated creature teach us about ourselves and our relationship with God? First, there was something about his skin that made others shun him. We who are used to prejudice connected with skin color can’t help but see Jesus in this instance overcoming skin-color prejudice and inviting us to do the same. Another thing the leper’s boldness teaches us is to come before Christ confident in his victory over sickness and death. We shouldn’t come before him too focused on our unworthiness. Rather, look upon Christ the warrior who has won a great victory. Ask him to share with us the fruits of his victory. For the leper, it meant unashamedly pointing out to Jesus his medical condition. For us, it might mean empowering us, enabling us to overcome an attitude that hobbles us and makes it impossible to respect and serve others. But, at any rate, treat Christ as someone who has won a victory and can hardly wait to share the effects of that victory with us.

What else would the leper teach us? He would teach us to prize belonging to the community as only one can who has been long excluded from it. And finally, the leper would teach us to long for the wholeness of life that Christ came to give.