Leprosy may not have been a death sentence to the afflicted when Jesus was on earth, but rather a sentence of solitary confinement. A leper was an outcast; avoided by all.
As a bacterial infection, the disease is treatable today, but prior to modern medicine, those suffering had to live away from the community. They were cut off from everyone except others suffering from the disease. When out walking they had to announce their disease, so that people would not get close to them. This highly-contagious illness is spread by coughing or sneezing and, while the ancient world may not have known how it was spread, they knew they needed to isolate the sick from the healthy.
Even so, at least one with such a isolated life knew about Jesus and His healing power. He begged at Jesus’ feet to make him clean. From either courage or desperation, and perhaps a mix of both, the leper does something that he’s not allowed to do: approach a clean person. Yet he not only approaches, but also kneels and announces his faith in Jesus by saying, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Jesus has pity on the man and cures him, instructing him not to tell anyone, but to go to the Temple with the prescribed offering. Instead, the man proclaims his healing to the point where Jesus cannot even enter a town openly. (Mk 1: 40-45)
We don’t know how long the man lived as a leper. What we do know is that his joy at returning to the community was demonstrated by the publicizing of his healing. He wanted to tell everyone, not just that he was healed, but by Jesus, the itinerant preacher and miracle worker. His days of being an outcast were over and he could now mingle with friends and strangers alike. His healing made him whole and brought him back into the community.
Illness can do the same to us today, maybe not to the degree of being an outcast from all of society, but depending on the disease, it can be easier to retreat from others rather than to be in the crowd. Yet when we are healed, who do we thank first? Do we proclaim God’s generosity at healing us, or do we thank the caregivers who delivered the treatment? Could it be that we are embarrassed to proclaim God’s intervention in such a secular culture? Are we afraid of being outcasts if we give God the glory for a healing?
God’s providence is at the root of all healing. From an aspirin to cutting-edge technology, God is the inspiration behind medicine. The healer may take on a different name and face, but God works through them to heal His people. Let us give Him the thanks, praise and glory due to such a loving and merciful God who wants to heal, not just our bodies, but our relationship with Him.