According to a theological paper by Francois P. Viljoen, leprosy ‘was highly dreaded in the ancient world. It was regarded a terrible and defiling disease, as those who were infected were physically and ceremonially regarded as unclean.’ He would further explain, ‘it was so difficult to heal leprosy that they [the Rabbis] compared such healing with raising a person from the dead… Leprosy was associated with uncleanness and a great social stigma was attached to it… People diagnosed with or suspected of leprosy were excluded from the community… Contact with lepers had to be avoided and lepers had to warn others not to come close to them (Lv 13:45).’
It’s worth noting that the scripture refers to any skin-related illness as ‘leprosy.’
In the context of the above, we shall read this passage from the gospel of St. Matthew:
When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
What can we deduce from reading the narrative above, especially in the face of the COVID-19 crisis?
Jesus here represents humanity as it is originally and forever intended by the Creator. The leper stands for those who have forever been at the mercy of tragedy and pain. The energy that went out of Christ’s hand and flowed through the body of the leper represents the creativity of mankind’s healing prowess bestowed by God. The mysterious bond that brought these men together was love. Love for the neighbor is the key to salvation.
In all these times, we have been putting far too much faith in power—the power of rulers and their supposedly indestructible systems. Their systems are of coercion and ritual human sacrifice. We have put far too much faith in coercion. The government wants you to deny your neighbor; it wants you to inform on your neighbor and have him/her locked up, so that you survive. It wants you to fight evil with evil. But your conscience says otherwise.
Like how Christ put all fear aside and healed the leper, the Christ-imitating man of today does likewise. The psalmist wrote: “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.” The Christ-man is blessed with the creative and life-affirming energy of God. The Creator’s healing is innovative, creative; it comes from truth, and truth does not require violence to defend itself. It does not require human sacrifice as the rulers of our day would have it. As St. Augustine said: The truth is like a lion; you don’t have to defend it. Let it loose; it will defend itself.