Our Sunday’s first lesson reminds us of man’s inexorable (and fallen) tendency to cast certain people outside of a society’s normal privileges. The Book of Leviticus states that lepers were to be deemed “unclean”–a fact they were themselves bound to declare–and that they were to “dwell apart,” “outside the camp.”
But this levitical instruction is not to be accounted in the mere terms of social history or cultural anthropology. That God became man is the principle by which we recognize God enters human history and culture in order to transform it. Therefore, we ought never interpret the laws and histories of God’s People merely in social or anthropological terms. Divine Revelation demands a theological account that looks for God’s providential design, not merely man’s typical tendencies.
Thus it appear that the lepers have been given a divine role. That they are to be held “unclean” is not to say that they are to be held as sinners, or morally depraved. “Clean” and “unclean” are religious categories that mark up reality in such a way as to orient people toward the overarching sense that reality is radically dependent upon divine wisdom. The role of the lepers, who are themselves taboo, is to manifest the hidden, mysterious, and even terrible presence of the all-transcendent God. They become sacrosanct, in both senses of the word. Thus, they are visible reminders of the way in which reality is utterly beholden to the divine actions of God. As they cry out “unclean,” they are reminders of God’s mysterious claim upon man’s reality.
God alone is able to unify man; God alone is able to heal man in his utter depths, such that the Original Sin by which we tend to cast people out of our social privileges becomes forgiven… even as we still struggle with the proclivity to do so. But God wants to lead us out of this divisive, inimical spirit. This exodus, which Jesus Christ perfectly accomplishes, is anticipated in Moses’ liberation of the Israelites from Egypt. Interestingly, when Moses needed encouragement that he would be an effective emissary, God manifested His aegis in the following way:
The LORD said to Moses, “Put your hand in your bosom.” He put it in his bosom, and when he withdrew it, to his surprise his hand was leprous like snow. The LORD then said, “Now put your hand back in your bosom.” Moses put his hand back in his bosom and when he withdrew it, to his surprise it was again like the rest of his body.” (Ex 4.6-7)
In other words, the proof of Moses’ divine delegation lies in his ability to stretch out his hand in such a way that it bridges the categories of clean and unclean.
Our discussion of Leviticus is especially important for us today. Our Archbishop, Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan delivered a message to all the Catholic faithful of NY–his letter was to be read aloud at all Sunday Masses. It is about the contraception coverage required by the US Dept. of Health and Human services. The pretense of such free coverage for, say, abortion-inducing drugs that would be available free to minors and without parental consent is that it amounts to preventive medical care. That children in the womb, conceived under whatever circumstances, are to be considered as maladies to be prevented in the same way as cancer is abominable. Additionally, that Catholic employers (e.g., schools) would be forced to buy health care plans that would provide this coverage is a direct attack on religious liberty–that is, that very religious liberty that was at the heart of the founding of our nation.
In effect, in the ostensible desire to provide every opportunity for healing, our President’s administration is declaring the Catholic faith “unclean.”
Now, Christ came to heal all divisions, he came to draw all men to himself. And as we hear in the Gospel today, he “does will” that we be made clean, and accomplishes this act of healing restoration. He stretches forth his hand and he both heals and unifies.
But notice the consequences. Christ’s work is such that he is driven outside of the city. Christ himself becomes taboo for the world in order to save it. To use this week’s Pauline language, in giving glory to God through his human existence, Jesus sought “the benefit of the many” on the Cross, as he died outside the city walls. This means that, if we are truly to receive the healing ministry of Christ, we must be willing to follow him… even if it means becoming society’s lepers; for this will be an act of the greatest witness to God’s unavoidable presence.