Once, when he was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, ‘Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.’ Then Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, ‘I do choose. Be made clean.’ Immediately the leprosy left him. And he ordered him to tell no one. ‘Go’, he said, ‘and show yourself to the priest, and, as Moses commanded, make an offering for your cleansing, for a testimony to them.’ But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.
‘Lord if you choose you can make me clean.’
I’m sometimes a little annoyed with the Jesus we meet at the end of this passage. He seems to disappear into selfishness, leaving behind the hurting; choosing not to heal them. Perhaps this is Jesus showing a bit of his humanity and, when I am stressed or tired, I don’t like it; I struggle to accept it. I’ll come back to that in a bit.
What of the leper who Jesus chose to make clean? We often focus on the miracle. Jesus acted and the leper was miraculously healed. We wish that we could do likewise, that we could reach out and change someone’s life just be touching them. The thing is, we can.
Who is the leper today? Who looks, smells, acts different than we do? Who is pushed out to the fringes of society? Who would we rather not touch? I can think of many, but people who are sometimes seen as untouchables in the UK today might be asylum seekers, LGBT+ people, homeless people, those living with hidden disabilities or mental illness, those convicted of a crime or those who cannot work. Why do ‘we’, the powerful majority, choose not to reach out and touch these people? If we did, perhaps we could change lives. If we did, perhaps we would see miracles here, now. If we did, perhaps we would be relevant.
But, like Jesus, we are also human. We also need to rest. You see, it is a bit unreasonable of me to be annoyed at Jesus for withdrawing from the crowds, and it perhaps says something about my desire to fix everything in my own power! We are also human. We also need a break. Self-care is not selfish. So please, love the so-called ‘untouchables’ but, first, love yourself.
Jesus, teach me how to love myself, help me to notice when I am working too hard, to learn to delegate, to trust others, to rest. Human God, help me to love my human self.
Spirit, teach me how to work miracles, help me to notice the untouchables in my community, to learn how to reach out, to love, to heal. Creator, let my love be active, caring for myself and for others, Amen.
Alex Clare-Young is on his final student-minister placement at St. Columba’s with New Lendal URC, York.