In some ways, Covid 19 is the 21st century’s version of first-century leprosy. People with Covid may feel like lepers of old because they’re forced to isolate themselves. Our modern world’s leaders are like Moses in this Sunday’s first mass reading (Lv 13:1-2, 44-46), prescribing actions for their citizens to keep others safe:
“As long as the sore is on him he shall declare himself unclean, since he is in fact unclean. He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.”
In several gospels passages, Jesus heals lepers. Sunday’s passage from Mark’s gospel (Mk 1:40-45) describes Jesus as “moved with pity” for a man with a faith strong enough to tell Jesus “If you wish, you can make me clean.” But maybe what moved Jesus so much was not the man’s appearance, but the state of his soul. The man was utterly alone—buried alive in his own skin. Jesus did more than cure his disease, he resurrected his soul. For the first time this person had reason to be grateful for something. Although Jesus directs him not to tell anyone of this miracle, the man’s spirit of gratitude couldn’t be isolated as his diseased body once was. Gratitude is a holy spirit we know Jesus loves because in Luke’s gospel (LK 17:11), Jesus laments not witnessing its resurrection from nine of the ten lepers he cures there.
As for the grateful ones in both gospels, for the first time, THEY would be free to think of how OTHERS feel—even to feel pity for someone other than themselves. In fact, with time, their pity for others might even be transformed into empathy—a condition with which Jesus became intimately familiar when he took on human flesh. In Sunday’s second reading (1 Cor 10:31—11:1), Paul recommends we turn Jesus’ condition into a contagion:
Do everything for the glory of God. Avoid giving offense, whether to the Jews or Greeks or the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in every way,
not seeking my own benefit but that of the many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
May we 21st century lepers enjoy that contagion of empathy until we imitate Christ’s resurrection to a new life.
Empathy is an indispensable virtue, and Jesus showed us time and again in the many healings he performed.
Imagine what the world would look like if we lead with empathy?