THEME: Jesus’ compassion

BY: Rev Fr Stephen ‘Dayo Osinkoya

Leviticus 13:1-2, 43-46
Psalm 32:1-2, 5, 11
1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1
Mark 1:40-45

Before Covid-19, there was the experience of the Ebola virus disease in Nigeria. While it may not be as frightening as Covid-19 is presently is, it was equally a frightening one in its own rank, for it is transmitted by touch. The sense of touch is one of the essential senses and it in particular brings about the feeling of belonging. To be deprived of the touch of others could be a very devastating experience. Such is the experience of lepers in the Old Testament.


I had the opportunity of shaking a leper in a leprosarium in December, 2003. And I could tell the joy that filled the hearts of these lepers to have young men like myself, training to become priest, come to celebrate Christmas with them, in their colony.

I don’t know if our sense of fairness is hurt hearing that people with a severe illness, disability or old age have to be abandoned, kicked out of the community life and isolated, leaving them to fend for themselves. We are told that what the Bible calls leprosy really isn’t the leprosy that we call Hansen’s Disease today, although some of it may have been, but the Bible included any kind of infectious skin diseases, including rashes and skin discolorations caused by things like mildew. More so, we have to understand this was a time “before medicine”, a time when any infection poses great threat to the community. Any infection meant there could be spreading of disease and separation was as a matter of fact the way to save the whole community. So when we read the Law regarding lepers in Leviticus we must understand the context – that the Old Testament Jews knew no remedy for this terrible disease. So isolating lepers was not meant to be a cruel treatment, but to be a protection for the uninfected people.

We see Jesus doing in the gospel what no one dares to do, at least in his time – touching a leper. He reached across the social and religious division and touched the leper. Jesus did not touch the leper to say “the law that excludes lepers is rubbish.” That law was given by the Lord to Moses. But he touched the leper to say that he is Lord over all weakness, sickness, sin and death. Thus he teaches us the supremacy of grace over the law, the supremacy of inclusion over exclusion. In many of the miracles performed by Jesus, healing was worked by just speaking the word, but in this case, by touching the leper, Jesus took our infirmities upon himself (Cf. Is. 53:4-6).

Jesus’ compassion challenges us to reach out with affection to the neglected, the downtrodden, the old, the sick and indeed all those in need. Our words and actions are to bring healing by nature, not destruction. Hence, St. Paul warns us not to cause any one to stumble (Cf. 1 Cor. 10:32).

One thing I found even more interesting in the first reading is the fact that the Priest of God is the one to declare the leper as an outcast. This presupposes a leper was a religious outcast. This religious tradition was held unto by the Jews and their authorities until the time of Jesus.

What could be more humiliating than to be a religious outcast; to think that the Church which is supposed to be a place of solace turns out to be a place of discrimination of all kinds. So we should ask ourselves, have we not turned some people into religious outcast by our way of relationships. They way look down on people, talk to them, and even shake or avoid shaking them during the sign of peace in the Church, as if they are not humans. In our time, tribal sentiments, status, ethnocentricism to mention but few have all contributed to make people outcast in various forms in our Parish communities. Discrimination in its different forms in our day is more than having leprosy in Jesus’ day. It stinks and disgusts especially because it is happening among God’s people.

Beloved in Christ, let us bear in mind that we too by our sins have become outcasts, but for the grace of Christ. He comes to touch our life, heal us and restore us back to the household of God. Let us therefore, see his mercy upon us as a call for us to show similar mercy towards those whom the society rejects.



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