1 John 5:5-13
Some years ago, during a retreat team meeting at Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center in Sierra Madre, the topic of faith came up during our discussion. Dr. Michael Downey, then part of the team, offered this comment. “The opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is smug certainty.” It is an insight I’ll not soon forget. Like Dr. Downey, the leper in today’s gospel also offers insight and a powerful image about true faith. No smug certainty here. Rather, he reveals a radical trust in God, and a faith undergirded by humility.
“Lord, if you wish,” he says to Jesus, “you can make me clean” Lk 5:12b).
Because leprosy made one ritually unclean, and anyone who touched a leper also became unclean, lepers were forbidden to live with others. This was a cruel, but necessary way to prevent the spread of this disease in a community, as well as the risk of ritual defilement. Indeed, the social consequences were as bad as the disease itself. Lepers were condemned to live out their lives at the margins of society. They were effectively alienated from family and community, and worship in the Temple. They lived lives of lonely exile.
“Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do will it. Be made clean” (Lk 5:13).
With these words, Jesus healed the leper in more than one way. He healed him, not only of the debilitating effects of his leprosy, but Jesus also restored him, integrated him to his community and place of worship. With Jesus’ healing touch, this man no longer wandered in alienation from God or God’s people.
Does our faith resemble that of the leper? It should. A faith like his can heal us of our own leprosy of sin that alienates us from God and those whom we have hurt by our transgressions. Christ invites us to approach him in faith and profound humility, and to utter the words “If you wish, you can make me clean.” With hand outstretched to touch us, Jesus will restore us from our self-imposed, debilitating alienation, even as he speaks words of love to us: “I do will it. Be made clean.”
Deacon Manuel Valencia is on the staff at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.