Some Maltese politicians have recently broached the subject of how necessary it is to have another hospital built to cater for the ever-growing needs of the population. Hospitals are buildings that house patients with various ailments with the sole purpose of caring for their needs and, when possible, curing them. This is all thanks to the advancement in science and medical expertise.
However, in antiquity, the opposite was often the case. Lacking the necessary medical knowledge and skill, certain dermatological disorders were often classified as some form of leprosy, and the only way they were dealt with was to let those inflicted with such conditions wander aimlessly through the countryside and keep themselves away from the people. No one would dare touch such individuals with a bargepole, lest they too became contaminated. Moses’s laws seemed exceedingly harsh in this regard, but their sole purpose was to protect the rest of the population.
With all this as background information, the gospel presents an episode where a man suffering from leprosy dared to approach Jesus. This was his very last chance, and possibly his only one, of ever having the possibility of being reintegrated into society. It was the last bridge he could cross back to safety, for if there was anyone who was militating – as many rightly do today – in favour of such important values as inclusion, Jesus was surely the one doing so. Having been turned away by the very people he came to save, Jesus was no stranger to rejection and to being an outcast himself, so he really knew this man’s plight.
Meeting a leprosy-riddled man and allowing him to approach him did not come without its complications, especially since this man technically came too close to Jesus for comfort. In itself, this should have already created a huge problem for the young Nazarene who would soon be clashing with the authorities over his interpretation of Mosaic Law. He did not think twice about going against the socio-religious norms of the society he lived in. For him, people took precedence over norms – the Sabbath was made for human beings and not vice versa.
The wounds we carry are too often hidden deep down in our hearts
What happened next is worthy of note: “Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I am willing. Be clean!’” (Mk 1,41) Jesus touched his open wounds, not giving a hoot about the religious implications such a gesture would have in his regard, namely that he himself would be considered ritually impure.
But the boldness with which Jesus stretched out his hand and placed it on that rotting flesh, thereby restoring it to its former healthy state, must be ours too. We need to be able to identify our own wounds, to stretch out our hands, to point at them, and to touch them. There can be no healing for those who look the other way.
It is consoling to read Wounded Prophet: A Portrait of Henri J.M. Nouwen, which is about this renowned Dutch Catholic priest and spiritual writer. It speaks of a very charismatic man who inspired countless others, but who himself grappled with various inner struggles. Yet, it is because he was honest about his woundedness that he could be a source of blessing to others.
Leprosy is a real condition on the skin that is apparent and visible to all. However, the wounds we carry are too often hidden deep down in our hearts. They can be some past painful experience, a deep-seated anger, low self-esteem, a sense of personal inadequacy, discomfort with one’s sexuality, a stingy attitude, slandering others, or a sin to which one always succumbs.
Acknowledging those wounds and touching them are the first steps towards healing. Only then can we truly cry out to Jesus: “If you are willing, you can heal me.”