Being the outsider is never easy. Being excluded or left out hurts. Throughout our lives we have all experienced occasions of being forgotten or rejected and this can be significant for us. The image of being treated as a leper is often regarded as the image of being rejected or excluded, considered as an outsider. The Old Testament passage from the Book of Leviticus (Lev.13:1-2, 45-46) describes the fate of the leper in the community. Such a person was regarded a danger for their disease could infect the whole community. The response was to drive them out, exclude them from contact with others.
Imagine what this was like for the leper. Such a person was condemned to isolation, cut off from family, from neighbours, from friends. They were doomed to live “outside the camp” by themselves. Only when their disease no longer affected them could they return to be with the community. Hence, they had a need to prove they no longer had the disease. In Israel, the physically unclean state that a person was deemed to have as a result of leprosy also gave rise to what was regarded as ritual uncleanness. To prove they were ready to return to the community required an approval from the priests in the Temple.
In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus encounters a leper facing such exclusion (Mk.1:40-45). The leper asks for healing. Jesus responds with compassion. He reaches out and touches the leper. It is a significant action on Jesus’ part. He crosses the boundary line of exclusion, both the physical barrier and the ritual one. To reach out and touch was a risk, for crossing these barrier places Jesus in danger of physical contamination and also ritual uncleanness.
The result of the “touch” is healing, physical and ritual. Telling the leper to go and show himself to the priests in the Temple will allow him to return to the community. The pain of his exclusion and isolation will be ended. He is no longer the outsider.
We encounter many “outsiders” in our lifetime. Sometimes we may even be “outsiders” ourselves. Perhaps our “outsiders” are those facing burdens – poverty, unemployment, life struggles, addictions of any kind. The “outsiders” may be those who have lost a spouse, those who are of a different race or ethnic group. The “outsider” may be the stranger in our midst, the new person in the neighbourhood or parish. The “outsider” may be the one who is bullied in school, the one who is “different” in whatever way from others. Are we able to reach out with healing inclusion as Jesus did with his touch?
No one in the Reign of God lives “outside the camp.” To live in the Reign of God is to live where all are included.
Who are the “outsiders” in our midst?
Who do we need to reach out to with healing touch that they may be with us, included, welcomed, healed?