The Leprosy of Dorian Gray

One of the books that we were required to read in high school was the Portrait of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde. The basic story was of an exceptionally vain young man that sits to have a portrait painted of himself. He is immediately struck by his own beauty and wishes that he would never age or show any effect of his life. By happenstance he gets his wish and his portrait, instead of his person, begins to show the signs of his age and corrupt life. Through the story Dorian does not age a day while the paintings not only ages but begins to show the evil life that he more and more falls into. He begins by covering the portrait, hiding it from guests and ends up moving it into the attic so that no one can see what has become a portrait of his inner self.

Wouldn’t that be terrible? If our actions were to actually manifest themselves on our skin, or even better on our driver’s license picture? Those things are always terrible. A blemish for a lie, freckle for an unkind act, a big giant blemish on our nose if we say something mean to a deacon … No doubt the price of concealer would skyrocket but I wonder if it would force us to temper some of our actions.
In Jesus’ time it was thought that leprosy was just that, a physical manifestation of ones sins. In that time people suffering from the skin disease of leprosy were treated as sinners and outcasts. There was no cure for the disease, which gradually left a person disfigured through loss of fingers, toes and eventually limbs.

They thought the affliction to be incurable and highly contagious. Once the lesions appeared the person was immediately separated from the community by Jewish law. It was thought to be a punishment for sin, after all it separated the individual from the community just the same way as sin separates the sinner from God.

So, imagine the state of mind that the man was in as he approached Jesus in today’s gospel. He knew what condition he was in; he knew what was in store for him physically. And he knew the loneliness that would come from being a social outcast. If he was married, he was separated from his wife. If he was a parent, he was separated from his children. From brothers and sisters, mother and father. He was separated from him job, his means of income. He was basically left to be on his own, without friends or family and would be left totally destitute. So, what choice did he have?

“A leper came to him and kneeling down begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.”
Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched the leper, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.”

All that Jesus had to do was say “Be made clean”, that was it and the “Leprosy left immediately”. Remember in Luke 7, verse 48 when Jesus was invited to have dinner at the house of the Pharisee and the woman came in, approached Jesus, washed his feet with her tears. It was assumed that she was a sinner and all that he had to say to her was, “your sins are forgiven”.

Is it really so easy? For the leper, in the gospel, he could see the lesions fall away, but what about us? Jesus died on the cross so that our sins could be forgiven … that’s it? All my sins are forgiven. Really? Some of my sins are pretty bad. And if all of my sins are forgiven does that mean that I have to turn around and forgive those that have hurt me? Really? Some people have done some pretty mean things to me.

Maybe if we had to come to Jesus kneeling down and begging him like the leper saying, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Would that help? The fact is that the love of the cross is almost too hard to believe. When you think about it, that is the hardest thing in the Catholic teachings for us to believe. Not church doctrine, or the model of the saints, or the sanctity of the eucharist … it is the unmitigated, underserved, unquestioning love of the cross. It is the way that Jesus is “moved with pity”. It is the way that he stretches out his hand”. The way that He touches us and says, “be made clean”.

Because in that moment “the leprosy [will leave us] Immediately, and [we will be] made clean”

MK 1:40-45

A leper came to him and kneeling down begged him and said,
“If you wish, you can make me clean.”
Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand,
touched the leper, and said to him,
“I do will it. Be made clean.”
The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.
Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once.
Then he said to him, “See that you tell no one anything,
but go, show yourself to the priest
and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed;
that will be proof for them.”
The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter.
He spread the report abroad
so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.
He remained outside in deserted places,
and people kept coming to him from everywhere.

January 13, 2022

January 13, 2022

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