But the leper, who lived outside Capernaum, did not!
Because of psoriasis his skin was all white
And the people who saw him reacted in fright.
But as much as they scorned him for being impure
The leper detested himself even more.
He was certain that all this had happened to him
Because he’d deserved it – because of some sin.
So he spent all his days in a terrible mood
And in dark depression he constantly stewed.
For nobody loved him – no body at all
And that’s why his heart was two sizes too small.
It is fair, I think, to compare Dr. Seuss’ story of the Grinch who stole Christmas with the story of the leper from Mark’s Gospel. They actually have a great deal in common. Both the Grinch and the leper live outside of town – away from the society of other people. This is not stated in the gospel story, of course. But it is understood. There were numerous laws and rules in the Galilee of Jesus’ time that required all
lepers to stay out of populated places. A leper risked getting stoned to death just for coming into town. The Grinch’s reasons for living away from others seem to be a bit different – seem to be based on a basic mutual dislike – but the effect is the same.
There is something else that the two of them have in common: there is no real medical reason for their banishment. More than anything, the cause of their troubles seems to have to do with the accident of skin colour. Certainly there is nothing physically wrong with the Grinch that means that he cannot live in Whoville. The thing that sets him apart (at least according to the movie version of his story) is that he just happens to be green and people haven’t been able to accept that.
The odd thing is that that is likely true of the leper too. This is confusing because, for us today, leprosy refers to a very specific medical condition – a highly contagious disease called Hanson’s disease that destroys the nerve endings in a person’s body leading to terrible disfigurement or worse. But ancient people were never so accurate in their medical diagnoses. The people in Jesus’ world just called any skin condition that persisted for any length of time leprosy – any skin condition. That includes persistent rashes, eczema, psoriasis. So things that, for us, are easily treated or managed with creams, salves or other medications meant for them that you were banished from the ordinary society of other people. So the leper may well have been an outcast because his skin just happened to be a strange colour – perhaps white or bright red.
So people labeled as lepers could be unfairly and unnecessarily cast out. It was all based on attitudes of blame. Everyone – including the lepers themselves – blamed the victims for their disease. They must have done something to deserve it. They must have been exceedingly wicked for such a thing to happen to them. The real problem, in most cases, was not the skin condition but the attitude towards it.
And the worst thing about it was that the attitude actually made the condition worse. Being banished from society meant that they could not take care of their skin and so wounds festered, lesions became caked with dirt and new infections were picked up. And it was practically impossible to break out of that cycle.
That leper was sitting outside of the town
When all of a sudden there came walking down
The street a great crowd. And among all these folk
Was Jesus the prophet and healer who spoke
And he told them of life and a God up above
Who poured out on people a most perfect love.
But at this the leper just scoffed and he vowed
That he’d prove that this preacher was merely a fraud.
So he jumped out and fell to his knees with a jeer.
The crowd all stepped back in considerable fear
While the leper cried out in a tone that was mean.
“If you’re willing,” he sneered “you can make me clean.”
Now I don’t know if that request was spoken in exactly that tone or not. But I do know that it was certainly an odd way to put it. The man seems to have had no doubt that Jesus could heal him. What he does question, however, is whether Jesus would choose to do it. And, you see, he had good reason to think that Jesus wouldn’t. After all, why would Jesus treat him any different than all the other people who had long ago decided that he wasn’t worth the trouble?
Remember, this guy’s biggest problem wasn’t any skin condition. It was attitude – both his and everyone else’s. And he simply couldn’t see any way that those attitudes could change – not his own and certainly not anyone else’s. Why it would have taken something truly extraordinary to break through years and years of assumptions and suspicions, of hatred, fear and blame. Why someone would have to do something crazy like…
Jesus felt compassion and reached out his hand.
He touched that poor leper that knelt on the sand.
The people cried out and drew back in dismay
“Jesus, why’d you do that?” they started to say.
The healer ignored their concern for hygiene
And said, “I do will it. I say you are clean.”
And what happened then? In Capernaum they say
That the leper’s small heart grew three sizes that day.
But a far greater wonder is yet to be told.
For those who saw Jesus behaving so bold
Were stunned to discover their hearts too could grow
To encompass that man they had once feared to know.
So sisters and brothers, don’t wait to show love.
In your hands is a power that comes from above.
To touch is to care and to care is to heal
And that’s how from heaven God’s love you reveal.
And he heard him exclaim ere he strode out of sight,