When I visit a hospital or a nursing home, I often will come upon a room with a warning on the door. It will say, “Infection. All visitors must check with nurses station and then use mask, gloves and gown.” When I did this for a while, I became use to “gowning up.” I had to feel bad for the poor patient though. It made them seem like an outcast to society, but at least our society has found a way for the rest of us to care for them.
That was not the case back in the days of our Lord–or even up to the middle of the last century. When people were seen as infected, they were isolated from the community. No one would care for them, no matter how sick they were. They were seen to be unclean. In fact, that had to walk around with a bell and continually shout, “Unclean, Unclean.” By unclean they meant more than dirty. For the ancients, unclean meant “possessed by evil.” So these poor people with one of the many diseases included in the category of leprosy, were forced to live completely isolated from society, with no one to care for them, hoping that some kind people would leave them food or even some garbage for them to go through. If they walked from one place to another, they had to call out “Unclean,” not just so people could avoid them, but so the people could be protected from the evil that must have done this to them.
And then Jesus came. He cured lepers. He did not see people who were unclean. He did not fear the power of evil. He saw people who were suffering the result of evil. For that is what all suffering is, the result of evil. He saw them, cared for them, and healed them. They would not have to go around calling out, “Unclean” anymore.
There are times that we also feel unclean. And I don’t mean unclean because we need to take a shower. I mean unclean because we know that we have fallen for the attack of evil. And we see our parents, friends, or other people we love, and feel so rotten about ourselves that we really don’t even want to talk to them. “They are good,” we realize, and then we ask, “What if they were to know what I have done?” Or we walk into Church and see so many people trying to be their best, and we don’t feel that we belong among them. There are times that all of us want to call out to others, “Unclean, Unclean, stay away from me.”
Like the leper in the Gospel reading, we don’t have to remain unclean. Jesus healed the leper. He saved him from the grips of evil. We come before the Lord, particularly in the sacrament of reconciliation, confession, and he doesn’t see our sin. He sees us as someone He loves who is hurting. And He heals us. He saves us from the grips of evil. We talk a lot about salvation in the Church. It might seem to be a theological term, that doesn’t relate to us. But then we fall, and we are caught by the Lord. He heals us. We realize that we have been saved. That is salvation.
There are people we know who are convinced that they are unclean. They may be involved in drugs, alcohol, sex or in other ways have merited a pretty bad reputation. Some of them decide to live the role assigned to them by their immediate society and go out of their way to seem to be even worse then they really are. Or they transfer their guilt onto other people continually making others feel like the scum of the earth, when, in fact, that is how they feel about themselves. Be nice to them. Be kind to them. Don’t join them in evil, or in talking about others. But don’t think of them as despicable. Jesus never treated people that way. Pray for them. And, perhaps, by the grace of God, they also will come before Jesus and seek to be made clean.
And then there are people who have not done anything wrong, but who have been made to feel that they are outcasts, have been made to feel that they are unclean. They may have a physical challenge. They may be overweight, and made to feel that they don’t belong among the beautiful thinner people, or they may be mentally challenged and made to feel that they are lesser human beings then others. They are not unclean. And it is up to us as a Christian Society, as a Catholic Family, to let them know that as long as they too possess Jesus Christ, they belong in the heart of our community.
What a horrible thing it is to go through life feeling unclean. What a wonderful thing it is to know that with Jesus Christ, none of us are unclean. In fact, we are more than not unclean. With Jesus Christ we are all beautiful.