So in this Sunday’s Gospel, we read about Jesus curing a leper. Leprosy was a relatively common disease in Jesus’ time. Lepers were seen as unclean, untouchable, outcasts from family and villages. Today, thanks to great advances in science and medicine, leprosy is very much a forgotten disease. And yet, there exists lepers of different kinds in our society today: immigrants, those who are lonely, the poor and the sick. Imagine the miracles that we can perform if only we’re willing to stretch out our hands and reach out to the lepers of today.
The Gospel reminds me of the time when St Francis of Assisi met a leper. Saint Francis had a fear and abhorrence of lepers. One day, however, he met a man afflicted with leprosy while riding his horse near Assisi. Though the sight of the leper filled him with horror and disgust, Francis got off his horse and kissed the leper. When Francis mounted his horse again and looked all around, he could not see the leper anywhere. It dawned on him that it was Jesus whom he had just kissed.
That meeting was a turning point in Francis’ life. Not only did he embrace the leper on the road but he also came to terms with the leprosy of his own prejudice. On a deeper level it prepared him for embracing Christ on the cross carrying the leprosy of sin. In his Testament, Francis wrote, “When I was in sin, the sight of lepers nauseated me beyond measure; but then God himself led me into their company, and I had pity on them. When I became acquainted with them, what had previously nauseated me became the source of spiritual and physical consolation for me.”
There are many ways today that we can assist those whom society rejects — those with mental illness or those who just don’t fit in because of lifestyle, orientation, or religion. In the spirit of Saint Francis of Assisi, we can get over our prejudices and kiss and wash their wounds. We can offer them comfort or compassion.