The medical description of Leprosy is: “Leprosy is a slowly progressing bacterial infection that affects the skin, peripheral nerves in the hands and feet, and mucous membranes of the nose, throat, and eyes. Destruction of the nerve endings lead to a loss of sensation in the affected areas. The loss of feeling, can make the fingers and toes become mutilated and fall off, causing the deformities that are typically associated with the disease.
In the days of old and up to the nineteenth century – before they had any cure for leprosy – lepers were simply banished to remote places (e.g from 1907 to 1925 Quail Island in Lyttelton Harbour was one such place)
At the time of Jesus too, lepers were treated in a terrible way. The disease also brought painful social and religious alienation. Lepers had to keep their distance from others, wear a bell and cry out, “unclean, unclean.” Perhaps most cruel of all, a leper cannot participate in community worship of God.
In this Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 1;40-45) a leper humbly asked of Jesus: “If you want to…..you can cure me”. Our Lord not only cured him, but did it through touching him. By touching the leper, Jesus appeared to “contaminate” Himself – and others say him as being ‘unclean” Himself. It is like what He did on the cross. Christ takes the leper’s infirmity upon Himself, just as in His passion and Cross, He took on our sin upon Himself. Despite our sinfulness, He died for us that we may live. At Mass this drama, and this Truth, is made present before us….