You'll find the readings here
There's a chorus that was very popular at our after-school club when my children were at primary school. You might know it. With assorted enthusiastic gestures it invites hearers to
“Take my hand and follow me, to see the sea walker, the blind man healer, the leper-cleansing man from Galilee”.
Great – except that for most western children, “leper cleansing” means precisely nothing – so that one child was heard determinedly singing about “the double glazing man from Galilee”. Given the bad press which those who sell secondary glazing seem to enjoy, this wasn't perhaps the most helpful image...but it's fair to say that the emphasis on leprosy in the Biblical healings can seem to emphasise that these are stories of long ago and far away, stories that don't have much to do with us - which is a bit of a problem, given the theme of two of this week's readings, two lepers separated by centuries. King Namaan, remembered by name even today, is certain that he knows how he will be healed...But he is disappointed, even affronted, by the simplicity of the act he's actually asked to perform. There's a moment when his pride threatens to prevent his healing...when he almost cuts off his nose to spite his face and goes home, refusing to believe that anything but a huge and dramatic gesture will really work. He sets the stage with his elaborate gifts for his brother monarch, and expects to remain in the theatre of grand designs...but, just as he used an obscure slave girl, a prisoner of war, to bring Namaan to Israel, God wants to bring about healing through the small, uncomplicated every day task of bathing in the river. It demands both faith and humility for Namaan to strip off the layers of royal dignity and get on with doing what he is told...and I'm wondering how often, in holding out for the huge miracle, we overlook the simple, straightforward daily acts of obedience, the tiny changes in ourselves that add up to something huge.
Equally, how often do we feel too small to make any difference ourselves – so we sit on our bottoms and do nothing – because that way we can't fail!
We have a choice...
And in the gospel it's Jesus who makes the choice. The leper approaches him, overstepping the boundaries of the law...and presents Jesus with two options. He can ignore him, and concentrate on preaching God's love in the towns and cities – or he can touch the leper, render himself unclean, and stay out in the countryside – placed on the wrong side of the tracks by his compassion.This will subvert his mission on one level even as it confirms it at another. It's another kind of choice...and one that we are often wary of making.
Jesus touches the leper, and so joins him in his place of exclusion and uncleanness – just another presentation of the truth of the Incarnation, God becoming one of us...but we, on the whole, seem still to prefer to remain in our clean Christian ghettoes – we encourage people to join us there, but we expect them to come on our terms, and to turn into people “just like us”...(oh dear, can you tell that I'm just a little concerned about mission at the moment I wonder?)
Jesus heals the leper...and then gives him back his community by sending him “through the proper channels” to have his healing confirmed by the priest. The pariah is to be welcomed home, a living sign of God's healing at work.
What will that look like for us. Are we ready to recognise and celebrate unexpected healing...and are we willing to be part of the process, by responding however unlikely the call may seem to be?