Lepers and Risky Love

 

It happened on the way home from church yesterday. We were most of the way home, and maybe beginning to feel a little tired and grumpy. Then we heard Beangirl’s name loud and clear. Looked up and, in the middle of the sidewalk, there was a girl her size on a bike. Stopped right in front of us and grinning.

“Hi!”

Beangirl almost smiled, but not quite. I smiled anyways and said hello, feeling terribly like a mum in that moment.

The girl peddled off, and we kept walking.

I asked Beangirl if she knew the girl’s name. Oh yes, she’s in my class. Why didn’t you say hello? She’s usually mean to me, so I don’t talk to her.

Already? It breaks my heart. I remember how awful playgrounds can be and how imperative it is to keep safe – with the benevolent, safe from antagonists. I remember how cruel it all was. I hadn’t realized that we were there already. Five years old and social messiness already murky around us. Wading through a Leviticus’ worth of social rules designed to keep people apart. Clean.

This week’s lectionary reading continues last week’s theme on healing – and this time the tricky question of the Law crops up. Jesus meets a leper who is begging by the road. By social custom, he is kept apart so that his sin and its consequences might not be caught by anyone else. But Jesus takes pity on a him and heals him. Jesus then sternly warns the man to say nothing to anyone but to go directly to a priest. There are 32 verses in the book of Leviticus to contend with, and Jesus just hopped over all of them. Maybe by sending him to the priest, Jesus was trying to ease the leper’s re-entry into society. Healed and acknowledged, he can go anywhere, he can talk to anyone. But to be suddenly healed is suspicious, and the leper might find himself in more social trouble than before. Persecuted rather than just excluded. Who’s to know? So Jesus warns him to go to the priest.

But, of course, the man doesn’t. Who would? I’d be dancing and shouting and proclaiming at the top of my lungs, if this happened to me. Which might not do the trick when it comes to social reinclusion. Oh, we don’t talk to her…

Jesus steps right into a terribly risky reimagining of social order. Risky for Jesus, the man, who dares to ignore the social structure of his peers. Risky for the leper who now must live in surprisingly changed context. But we read that it is Jesus who suffers for the risk. He could not stay safely and openly in the town and retreated instead to the countryside.

“And people came to him from every quarter.”

His risky love attracted crowds because it demonstrated an alternative to the injustice of exclusion. It was brave enough to take pity and reimagine the world around. To build and rebuild relationships in radical ways. And savy enough to warn the man about the future. Loving enough to welcome the crowds again and again. Risky enough not to count the personal cost.

And, as Christians, we bear his name. This is going to take courage.

 

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About Katie Munnik

Katie Munnik posts a new Messy Table every Monday.