Saturday, January 12, 2013


12 Once, when he was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, ‘Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.’ 13Then Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, ‘I do choose. Be made clean.’ Immediately the leprosy left him. 14And he ordered him to tell no one. ‘Go’, he said, ‘and show yourself to the priest, and, as Moses commanded, make an offering for your cleansing, for a testimony to them.’ 15But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. 16But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray. (Lk 5:12-16).

This miracle story was the gospel assigned for Friday, Jan 11, but was also, by coincidence, the subject of a discussion the previous day in my sophomore religion class. In the course of our discussion the question arose as to why Jesus didn’t just get up one morning and declare that every leper in the world was now healed. He could have doe so, right? So why didn’t he?

The answer, it would seem, is that he had not come to heal diseases, but to proclaim the Kingdom of God. His miracles and his parables and his teachings all pointed to this one central message: “The Kingdom of God is breaking in on you!”

So when we read this miracle story against the background of Jesus’ central message we see a lot more there than just a magical sort of medical miracle. The Book of Leviticus declared a leper to be an outcast cut off from the community for as long as the disease lasted; and anyone who came into contact with a leper contracted ritual impurity. The taboos surrounding the disease were pretty frightening.

Now look at how Jesus responded to the leper’s request. Without saying a word, he stretched out his hand and touched him! We can almost hear the horrified gasps from the crowd, especially from the doctors of the law and the super-religious among the onlookers. What is Jesus saying about the nature of the Kingdom he’s announcing? Isn’t the message pretty unmistakable? With the arrival of the kingdom the old order is passing away, the ancient walls and taboos that have separated people from one another are crumbling.

The foundations are being shaken, and the barriers are being broken down. “This man befriends sinners and eats with them!” is a pretty serious charge. With Jesus there are no more outcasts. The carefully orchestrated movement of separation that was the foundation of Israel’s identity (a pure people in an impure world) was suddenly being transformed into a movement of reconciliation and reuniting. Jesus sent the cured leper to the priest as if to give notice to those in charge that things were changing. The old order was passing away and God was doing something new.


Every now and then some teacher or administrator in our high school will complain that we should throw out a certain refractory student because “this is not a therapeutic community.” Sometimes we reluctantly have to help a student find a different school because of severe academic difficulties that we aren’t remotely capable of helping him with, or because he refuses to seek help for certain psychological or other issues that make his behavior harmful to the rest of the group.

But in meditating in the story of Jesus and the leper, I’ve started thinking about the idea of a “therapeutic community.” I suppose that the phrase refers to a group of people gathered specifically for the purpose of dealing with certain serious emotional or psychological issues such as addiction or neurosis. I agree that our inner-city prep school is not intended to be that. But what if we took the wider meaning of the word “therapeutic” (which his based on the Greek verb “to heal)?”

Every day I see that his unique school of ours is a very healing place. From our singing lustily together each morning to the compassionate way the student leaders deal with students who are struggling with behavior issues, to the way the teachers respond to the students. I personally find our school to be very “healing,” and I know that most others must find it so too.


Last night I led a prayer meeting for the French-speaking community of our parish here. And it was easy to see that for a couple of the folks there the experience was extremely healing. After we reflected for awhile on the story of miracle of the leper cited above, one man in particular was almost in tears thanking me for the reading and the insights because they gave him some hope in his struggles with his very difficult and troubled teenage son. So maybe it's not a therapeutic community, but it's surely a healing one!


So now I’m looking at my monastic community and asking myself what I contribute to it to make it a place of healing. It’s a great meditation, one that will keep me occupied for awhile. So meantime you can ask yourself if you belong to any healing communities, or how much of a healer you are.

Let us pray that we can be part of Jesus’ healing ministry, and proclaim loudly by our actions that the Kingdom of broken walls is indeed breaking in on us!


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