He stretched out his hand [and] touched him. – Mark 1: 41

   Touching can mean all sorts of things. It can be wanted or unwanted, depending on the circumstances & the nature of the touch. When we are deeply moved by another person’s words or gesture, we say, “I was touched by that.” In today’s Gospel it conveys healing, but also more than that. Lepers were untouchables par excellence in our Lord’s time, not simply because they were repulsive to look at but also because there was a moral stigma attached to them. The disease was thought to be the outward & visible sign of some grave sin.

   I looked it up in a medical reference book, & learned that leprosy belongs to the same family of diseases as tuberculosis & syphilis. It is not highly contagious & can be contracted only after prolonged contact with someone suffering from the disease, which is why it frequently runs in families.

   Of course, none of this was known in our Lord’s day, but there is an interesting parallel with sin here. It has been said that we are known by the company we keep. The sort of people we “run” with often influence our vocabulary & our values. The transformation does not take place overnight, but with time, for good or ill, we tend to reflect what the group values. Sin (or virtue) is not highly contagious but it is infectious. There is a sense in which we “learn” one or the other.

   In Jesus’ day, His touch of the leper was a daring & bold thing to do. Equally daring & bold was the leper’s impertinence in approaching Him. Perhaps it was born of desperation. In any event, both defied the conventions of the time. But Jesus thought it important to exhibit His Father’s compassion for all of us “untouchables” as well. When Mother Teresa of Calcutta opened a house for her nuns in New York City, she made it a place of refuge for people infected with HIV or Aids. Many of them had been rejected & banned from their families because of the moral stigma attached to the condition. I know of one case where a funeral home refused even to cremate the remains of a person who had died from AIDS. I have little doubt that Mother Teresa was emulating our Lord in today’s Gospel.

   I would suspect that all of us have experienced rejection in varying degrees in our lifetime – perhaps even isolation. That is one of the terrible consequences of bullying in school. Unrequited love can be crushing simply because we care so much about someone who does not return our love. Jesus knew what that was like in spades. He loved us to the point of going to the cross for us, but He was met all too often with mockery & contempt & even hatred. It makes our little episodes of a “broken heart” seem pale by comparison.

   It is at such times that we need the reassuring, comforting touch of someone who can show us that we are indeed appreciated if not needed. So it wasn’t just the disease that Jesus was healing – it was the leper’s desperate isolation that required healing. Our Lord did that. It is no wonder that the man couldn’t stop talking about what had happened to him. He had been released from bondage in more ways than one. That is what Jesus can do for us if we will just let Him touch our lives, even if we think we are hopeless. With God, nothing is impossible.  AMEN!