February 14, 2021 – Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Click here for the readings (https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/021421.cfm)
When I was on my first year college in the seminary in Cebu, I met Nanay Elisabeth, an old lady, sick with leprosy. Despite her illness she was very welcoming. She was in fact the most talkative in their ward. Like a Nanay, she was very affectionate to us seminarians. I usually would come to visit the ward where Nanay Elizabeth was on Saturday afternoons to mingle with leprosy patients and make friends with them.
The many visits I made formed friendship with them and especially to Nanay Elizabeth who always would offer her leprosy-infected-hand, but healed, for us seminarians to receive her blessing. In one of those visits, Nanay Elizabeth shared her life story which touched me very much.
Due to her illness, she never got married. Life was so difficult because she was poor. In her younger years, she was into scavenging garbage in Cebu. One early morning, as she approached a garbage bin to collect recyclable materials she found something. She actually found “someone” inside the garbage bin that others might have thought, was a trash.
Nanay Elisabeth found a newly born baby girl in that garbage bin. She named her Nancy. Nancy, perhaps, a reason why she was thrown away was because Baby Nancy had a cerebral palsy. Nancy was sick and in the minds of many, they might have believed that she was a cursed baby and useless. But what was more heartwarming there, was Nanay Elisabeth’s unconditional love for the baby. The baby was unwanted but for this young woman, Elisabeth, all her love and affection were for Nancy. She brought Nancy home and did all her best to let Nancy feel that she was loved and treasured.
However, when the signs of leprosy began to appear to Nanay Elizabeth, that became a painful part of her life because she had to leave Nancy to a group of Religious Sisters while she had to be in the leprosarium to be treated. Nanay Elizabeth’s heart ached daily because she longed to see Nancy.
With some of my classmates, we went to that center where Nancy was, visited her and took pictures of her so that Nanay Elizabeth would have a glimpse of her daughter.
This brings me into the story of the Gospel. A leper found love and kindness in Jesus. In the Biblical times, a leper was nobody. A person who has leprosy is removed from the community. It means that the person is forced to leave from the comfort and presence of friends, family and relatives.
The Jews at that time believed that leprosy was an ultimate punishment for sin. A leper was considered a terrible sinner punished by God and thus unclean, unworthy and worthless person. This became a form of treating a leper as less than human or not human at all.
Jews would avoid them at all times. This is what we find in the Book of Leviticus that prescribed on what to do with lepers. They are to stay outside the camp, that is, outside from the daily affairs of his/her family and community. A leper has to make known himself by shouting, “Unclean! Unclean!” to warn the people of his presence. Everybody will never get near and come close to a leper for fear of being infected and worst of being considered as unclean too. Though there was a medical explanation for this, as isolation of the infected will protect the community. However, later on, this also fostered a culture of indifference and discrimination to the sick.
Yet, our Gospel conveys to us a shocking and moving turn of events. A leper should never get near to a Jew and a Jew should also immediately avoid any contact with a leper. But then, it was so shocking for all the Jews to see a leper coming closer to Jesus asking the Lord to cure him. What was more surprising there was the gesture of Jesus towards the leper. Jesus touched the leper!
The Lord touched a worthless person, an unclean and less human leper. And when that touch of Jesus happened, it destroyed the wall of indifference among the Jews towards the poor leper. The touch of Jesus assured the leper that he was not worthless at all, that he was not less human but, he was loved and cherished by the Lord who longed to see him joyful and healed.
Jesus was moved to touch the leper because the Lord looked with pity on him. This feeling of pity described in the Gospel is not a “shallow feeling” that we usually have when we see a beggar or a person with difficulty, and we feel pity for him/her, but then we go along with our life and forget about the person. No, it is not that way. What Jesus felt was true pity where he too felt the sorrow and pain of the leper. In fact, Jesus was so distressed and disappointed to see the situation of the leper. This moved him to do something, and that is, to touch the leper in order to cleanse him. By doing that, Jesus broke the barriers of disgust, shame and fear that prevented the leper to be accepted by the community. Jesus changed those negative feelings and indifference with kindness and love.
As we remember and celebrate today what love can do, let that love in us also counter the growing indifference towards those whom our society identifies as worthless, useless and less human. To counter such injustice and indifference, never ever treat anybody as less human or useless because of their imperfection, because of their sickness or because of their failures in life.
Let us also not forget that each of us has our own leprosy, imperfections and sins that would qualify us as unclean before God. However, God showed pity upon us and became human like us so that Jesus may touch us to heal us.
Let us now share to our families and communities the touch of God that we have experienced so that like Nanay Elizabeth who despite her own situation, we too may be able to give life to those who need it, to give joy to those who are sad, and to give hope to those who are hopeless. Hinaut pa.