The leprosy we hear of in our first reading and in the gospel is not the Hanson’s disease we know to be true leprosy. Hanson’s disease is only mildly contagious. The leprosy of biblical times was feared not because it was contagious but because it was unclean, it was dirty and so a leper would cause the family or the whole community to become dirty, ritually unclean.
As we know lepers were not allowed to live in the family or community. They had to live apart. They had to warn people of their presence by calling out ‘unclean’. They knew their place, their social boundaries.
Anthropologists point out that a society concerned with maintaining safe and secure body boundaries is also concerned with safe and secure societal or geographical boundaries. Rules governing the physical body replicate rules governing the social or geographical body. So we have such sayings as ‘you’re in my face or you are invading my space. We want people to respect our boundaries. We set social boundaries for ourselves. We all know of the mentality, ‘NIMBY – not in my backyard – we have our restricting immigration laws and our restricted membership clubs.
We have those who wonder if we are saved, if we are within the restrictive boundaries they’ve set for God’s life and love.
In the gospel Jesus respected the boundaries of the time. On other occasions he touched people, laid his hands on them. In today’s gospel he didn’t invade the space of these ten men who kept their distance, who didn’t invade his space. Jesus simply told them “go and show yourselves to the priests”, which they did, even though one of them knew he would not be allowed into the temple grounds because he was not a Jew.
On their way they realized their leprosy was gone, they were clean and they were no longer confined to their unclean space. In their excitement they immediately thought of their own families, their homes, their friends. Being cleansed they knew they would be welcomed into their spaces. In their excitement they forgot the priests and the temple and they headed for those most important to them, their families.
Except for the Samaritan who knew he would always be an outsider, a leper in Jewish society. Jesus probably wasn’t surprised by the behavior of the nine. When you are raised to believe you are special to God, you end up taking God for granted, they would find time to thank God later. Not the Samaritan, his heart was filled with gratitude as he fell before Jesus and poured out his thanks.
Today’s scripture emphasize the importance of thanksgiving. We all have so many blessings for which we should be thankful. One of the saints said,’ If the only prayer we prayed was ‘thank you’ that would be enough.
But the gospel tells of the social and religious barriers of those days and with that in mind we might ask ourselves;
What are the barriers of our lives? Who do resent or resist entering our space? Who are the people we keep at a safe distance because of the way they live their lives, because of their racial or cultural or social status? Do we have open minds or closed and rigid mindsets? Are we willing to follow Pope Francis as he calls us to be a welcoming church, an understanding church rather than a judgemental church? Are we willing to remove any barriers that make us unresponsive to the needs of the poor, the un-employed or under employed? Are we willing to do away with barriers that hide from us the realities around us; hungry children, single mothers on welfare, victims of the civil strife, victims of the sweat shops of the world? These are the concerns of Pope Francis and he wants them to our concerns too.
As we continue to celebrate our Eucharist may we all be given the strength and willingness to tear down the barriers that separate us from family and strangers. May our hearts be open to all those who come into our live and be thankful for the blessing with which our lives are blessed.