Jesus... stretched out his hand, and touched him, saying `Be clean'. And immediately the leprosy left him. Lk 5:13
It remains one of the sad facts about society today that the medical truth that leprosy is not one of the really contagious disease has not `got through' to ordinary people. Leprosy sufferers are still shunned in many `civilisations' and in some parts of the world are still made to live in isolated communities. Indeed, to the shame of `Christians', there have been `Christian' hospitals that would not admit leprosy patients, for fear of what their respectable patients might think. Sad to say, the loose way in which the word `leper' is still used in current English contributes to the perpetuation of this unhealthy view of the disease. Prominent politicians have referred to those they considered moral outcasts as `the lepers of our society'. Perhaps as a start we as Christian doctors should never allow such usage of the word to go unchallenged. Certainly we should erase the word `leper' from our personal vocabulary.
Did Jesus know the medical facts about leprosy when he healed the man? When he `emptied himself' to become a man, did he allow himself in some respects to share the limited information available to those around him, and to share their real fear of contagion? We do now know. If he did, then his action showed courage. But even if he knew that leprosy does not pass itself on by a mere touch, he would still have had to overcome that initial revulsion that even we with our reassuring knowledge have to overcome when we first touch one of those patients more hideously affected by the disease.
But for Jesus there was another aspect. He touched the man, despite the fact that there was no need (Lk 7:10. Mt 8:13); he could heal at a distance. In doing so, he shared the man's ceremonial uncleanness (Lv 22:5-6) and would then himself run the risk of being an outcast. But that was so like him. Not the easy way, but, if necessary, the costly sacrificial way. The same attitude took him to the Cross.
Help me, Lord, always to see the other person's need, as you did.
And in seeking to help, grant me grace to forget myself.
Further reading: Lk 5:12-16. Is 53:4-6. Mt 27:45-46.