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Reflection on the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted on February 11, 2024, by Eileen Custy SL

Hansen’s Disease is a frightening, painful disease that for centuries was only cured by death. It is highly contagious, which as you know, fostered isolation and fear of anyone who might have contracted it. The Hebrew laws forbade lepers to associate with the normal population. As a consequence, they lived in dire conditions outside the cities and were scorned and ridiculed. By law they had to announce their presence, shouting or ringing a bell, so that the healthy people could clear the way. It was forbidden to touch them. It is only in very recent decades that they have been released from bondage in our own society. 

In today’s Gospel event, the leper violates the law by coming too close, and Jesus also violates the law by touching him. Can’t you just hear the gasps of horror all around them?

I have always loved this story. It is because of the way Jesus responds. This wretched creature, covered with sores and dirt and clothed in rags comes too close, and with deep faith or in desperation or possibly even challenging Jesus, makes his request. He is so desperate that he is willing to take his chances. Respectfully he says, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” He isn’t sure this will work. “Will I be rejected and shooed away or will Jesus live up to his reputation and heal me?”

The people around Jesus move away, horrified that this sinner would dare to come so close. Jesus, on the other hand. hears the cry, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” There is fear and uncertainty in the leper’s voice, but Jesus sees the sincerity, longing and hope in his eyes and responds quickly and forcefully with “I do will it, be made clean.” I imagine  compassion in Jesus’ words as he touches the man. The people standing around probably scooted even farther away in their horror.

In my own life I have experienced the cure of a life-threatening, fast-moving cancer. After almost eight years, I am still among the 2 percent of patients for whom it has not returned. I can appreciate in a small measure what that leper felt when he realized he was cured. For this man, however, his cure came after years of suffering, demoralizing poverty and isolation, so having someone really care, actually love him, and reach out to touch him plus remove the cause of his suffering, must have filled him with overwhelming joy and gratitude. 

Just think how that would feel. I visualize him first feeling the difference in his body, feeling strength and wholeness, then looking down at his body and seeing no sores, and no disfiguration. The expression on his face would be one of amazement and the expression on Jesus’ face one of pure joy at watching his reaction.

Hansen’s disease is now under control and its victims can live completely normal lives if they receive the proper medication which, unfortunately, doesn’t always happen in poor countries. But there are other kinds of lepers in our society. The LGBTQ population is a prime example. There are people who have no understanding of the problem and would prefer to isolate them, keep them far away, ignore them or worse yet try to return them back to “normal!”

Thousands of people are starving to death but they are ignored. So what if 30,000 Palestinians have died – they’re expendable.

While in some ways the African American population has made great strides forward, there is still plenty of hatred, suspicion or fear of them around. And don’t forget those “awful” immigrants lurking at our borders. These groups are today’s lepers, and there are way too many of them. We have found a cure for the disease, but not for these conditions.

Right now, animosity that was much stronger than we probably realized it was has been simmering under the surface against Jews, Muslims, Palestinians, immigrants, the right, the left and on and on. We have good reason to be concerned. How can we find a cure for this form of leprosy that is so rampant and contagious in our country and in our world?

There is no simple answer, but a good place to start is to look within ourselves. Who are the lepers or semi-leprous people in my life? Who makes me want to avoid an encounter and more importantly why?

As always, the Gospel leaves us with many things to ponder.


Eileen Custy SL

Eileen Custy was born and raised on a dairy outside of Denver and attended a one-room schoolhouse for her first eight years. After a year of college at Loretto Heights, she joined the Sisters of Loretto. In spite of the fact that she thought at that time she never wanted to be a teacher, she loved the work and taught for 46 years. Most of those years were spent in El Paso, Texas. Eileen “retired” in 2004 and moved to Kentucky, where she served as an administrative assistant to the Motherhouse Coordinator for nearly 20 years before retiring in November 2023. Eileen continues to serve the Motherhouse Community, particularly pastorally.