As I look out on all you fine people in church this morning, I assume that at least some of you are almost as old as I am. If that is so, then at least some of you remember Bishop Fulton Sheen, a popular public speaker many years ago. He had a popular television show that drew a large audience each Wednesday evening : including my parents and siblings. On one such program, the bishop told of his visit to a leper colony in Africa. He brought with him a supply of silver crucifixes to give to each of the 500 people in the colony who were suffering from the dreaded disease of leprosy. The first person he met there had only the stump of his left arm remaining, while his right arm and hand were covered with ugly, open sores. The bishop took a crucifix from the box he carried, carefully held it a few inches above the leper's diseased hand and dropped it into the leper's palm.
Immediately, the good bishop was embarrassed by what he had just done. "All at once," he said, "I realized there were 501 lepers in the camp, and the worst leper of all was myself! I'd given a crucifix : the very symbol of God's unconditional love for us all : but then I pulled back, not wanting to touch the leper's hand, forgetting what that crucifix meant to me. So I looked again at that silver crucifix in the leper's hand and knew what I had to do. I pressed my hand firmly into the leper's hand with the crucifix in between. And I did this for each and all the remaining 499 lepers."
Thank God we don't suffer, as did the man in today's Gospel, from the kind of leprosy that decays our skin and wastes our bodies. But there is no one here that has not been wounded or broken in body or spirit perhaps many times by life's circumstances, no one who is not in need of a healing touch. It is to all of us that Jesus speaks in today's Gospel. In stretching out his hand, in touching that leper and healing him, Jesus is showing us that God loves each of us unconditionally, no matter how physically, emotionally or spiritually scarred we think we are.
That's the first half of Jesus' message. But there's more! In addition to the healing God herself does for us, there's the matter of what God wants us to do for each other. It turns out to be exactly the same thing: God wants us to help heal each other. That's God's firm, loving intention. Sounds wonderful! But how do ordinary people like us become healers? Very simply by recalling how our own wounds feel and remembering what we need when we're sick, depressed and broken-hearted: we need someone to reach out as Jesus did, take us by the hand : even when our hand is not looking so healthy! : and walk with us all through the darkness until we see the light beginning to shine again. If that's what you and I need when we are hurting, that's just what our hurting sisters and brothers need as well. And it's something each of us can do! In conclusion then, today's Gospel message is clear and simple: Become the healer God intends you to be!