By Canon Gerry Conroy
I think that for most people, the isolation this pandemic has forced on people is something that it will take time to recover from. While it may have been necessary to protect others and even oneself, that doesn’t make it any easier. We are not of our nature solitary creatures and the isolation brings with it a mental stress we probably couldn’t have imagined before having to deal with it.
Listening to that Gospel story of Jesus healing the leper, we probably don’t think too much of the isolation his disease forced on him for the protection of others, but that was also a heavy burden he had to bear in terms of the mental stress it brought to him. It is that isolation that makes me ask whether the miracle was simply about restoring the physical health of the leper. The miracle cure seems to point us to a healing of something deeper in the human psyche and we should not stop at the mental or emotional health either. The Bible has a particular insight about sin, often speaking of its effects with words such as ‘isolation’, or ‘separation’, it has the idea of breaking down or breaking up. Leprosy was seen as a particularly strong metaphor for sin for these reasons.
This pandemic has been an opportunity that has brought out the best in people: their generosity and caring concern for others. It has perhaps shown us a side to ourselves that we can struggle with but there is also a side to ourselves that we can be proud of. However it has also shown us how deep some of the ills of society go to the extent that we end up asking the question of whether or not everything will simply return to the way it was before. On one level it won’t: experts are talking of a yearly vaccination, or living with the virus as we do with the flu. But on the other we have seen the generosity and goodness of which we are capable. Perhaps as leprosy once was, this virus can be for us a particularly strong metaphor of the effects that sin can wreak in lives and in Christ’s healing of the leper an equally strong reminder of our call to care for one another.
Jesus healed that leper and then told him to go and show himself to the priests and make the prescribed offerings in thanksgiving. He was to do this as evidence to them because the authorities were the ones who did not believe in Christ and had no time for him or his message that broke down barriers raised by self-interest. We know who to go to if we want healed of our physical ailments, perhaps even our mental or emotional ailments. But there is more in us than these that needs healing and who can we go to if not God. Who will heal us of a brokenness that is deeper than all these others, a brokenness that would isolate us from one another in self-interest? And if he can heal the deepest and most intimate part of us, what else will he not do for us? The leper shows us to whom we need to go; the virus can remind us of that too.