6th Sunday in Ordinary Time | Year B
A leper came to Jesus and pleaded on his knees: ‘If you want to’ he said ‘you can cure me’. Feeling sorry for him, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. ‘Of course I want to!’ he said. ‘Be cured!’ And the leprosy left him at once and he was cured. Jesus immediately sent him away and sternly ordered him, ‘Mind you say nothing to anyone, but go and show yourself to the priest, and make the offering for your healing prescribed by Moses as evidence of your recovery.’ The man went away, but then started talking about it freely and telling the story everywhere, so that Jesus could no longer go openly into any town, but had to stay outside in places where nobody lived. Even so, people from all around would come to him.
The lepers in Jesus’ time experienced the pain of their physical condition but they also suffered deeply as a result of their isolation from society. Contact with them was feared because people had long observed that regular contact with a leper eventually led to leprosy. Isolation inevitably plunged the leper into material poverty but the isolation from others was also a painful form of poverty.
Jesus chose to touch the leper who approached him, possibly the first time the leper had been touched by a healthy person for many years. To be welcomed in this way and to have his leprosy cured must have been a great joy for the leper. No wonder he went through the towns talking about what had happened to him.
The price Jesus paid for freeing the leper from his isolation was to become more isolated and restricted in what he could do himself. “He could no longer go openly into any town, but had to stay outside in places where nobody lived”. That had been the leper’s lot before he encountered Jesus. The reason for the isolation of Jesus and the leper were opposites – no one wanted to be near the leper and everyone wanted to be near Jesus.
We need to have a certain amount of freely-chosen isolation in our lives if we are to have the opportunity to reflect, pray and de-stress ourselves. For true introverts isolation is where they find their energy and inspiration. But isolation which is not freely chosen is very damaging to the human spirit.
In our society some people are isolated by forces in their lives which they have difficulty managing. Old people, alcoholics, ex-prisoners, people in abusive relationships and the mentally ill can live very lonely lives if they do not have alert and supportive family and friends.
Some people are isolated by their own low self-esteem, shyness or fear of engaging with others, or by pride which prevents them admitting they are lonely or need help. if this is our situation or that of someone we know, then small steps towards engagement with others are likely to be the most effective way of engaging. A cup of coffee with one person may seem a small achievement, but much more manageable than attending a barbeque.
We often do not see the isolation which young people experience. It begins in playgrounds when groups of children choose to exclude one or more children. The experience of rejection can lead some children to become loners who long to engage but for whom the pain of rejection is too big a risk. This experience may even shape their adult lives.
The parent who encourages their child to be inclusive, to look for the child who is cast out, to encourage those on the fringes to join in, is doing a great service to both their child, to others, and to society.