Summary: The courage of solidarity leads us to stand above the fear of infection and touch the other in his suffering and to lift him out of exclusion, loss of relationship and death. Then we become witnesses to the power of God in the world.
The gospel passage Mark 1.40-45 shows how God relates himself to the human infirmities of body and mind. The story shows the possibility of human suffering under physical and mental infirmities. The story brings us clarity through the two opposing behaviours. God tries to bring healing into such a situation through His presence, concern and touch. Humans on the other hand ignore the possibility of healing and exclude such a situation and distantiate themselves as something that could harm them. In the thought of God, the suffering man stands at the centre. In the thought of man, the leper, the suffering man, stands as a threat that could lead him to the loss of his own health and his affirmed place in society.
I remember a young man by the name Mathew who was infected with Aids. He came back home, because he needed understanding, care and concern from the only ones who would dare to do so in such an extremely hopeless situation. To his horror, he found that his family was afraid and felt threatened by his life in the family. They isolated him. He had a separate plate, a separate corner in the house and was not allowed to enter other rooms in the house. The members of the family were afraid even to touch his clothes, or even to stand close to him within the reach of his breath. Finally he died more out of exclusion and isolation than out of his sickness.
All places and times are bound to have incurable and infectious diseases of one kind or another. When confronted with such people, at the centre of the thought of those who are not sick are not usually the care and concern the sick person requires, but rather, the fear of getting infected by the sick person. Giving into this fear is to give power to the human need to protect the health of the healthy rather than saving the sick from their infirmities. But Jesus in the gospel meets us as a person who does not allow this power of the need to distance oneself from those isolated and excluded by social demarcation. He heals them through his presence, solidarity and brotherly touch, which have the power to heal atleast the psychological and physical wounds. When we become aware of this, we find in the core of our being a struggle between the will to solidarity and the tendency to isolate such people.
Going beyond incurable and infectious diseases, man isolates and excludes also others who are perceived to stand in their ways, whether the perception is right or wrong. Many innocnent people become victims of such wrong perceptions. Mrs. Tracy’s son robbed her diamond ring, sold it for a cheap price and celebrated parties for over six months with his close friends. In the meantime, Mrs. Tracy searched for the robber and always suspected the neighbour’s son, Tim, until the police proved her own son to be the culprit. Poor Tim had to suffer for over six months the anger from his parents and suspicion, exclusion and isolation from his friends and neighbours. We isolate those who are sick or perceived to be of bad character, because we believe that our contact with them diminishes our life. But there is already an element of death in the exclusion and isolation of the other.
When we look at death itself, we can see, that death is exactly the final point of exclusion and loss of relationship. We can see the same intensity of death in the life of the leper in the gospel. But God saves him from his death -- exclusion and absence of relationship with the rest of the community. The work of God in our lives delivers us from death. What we do and receive in life is also what remains after that. The solution to the fear of being infected is not exclusion. When we rely on exclusion, we uphold the power of evil over our life as a lasting reality. That cannot deliver us from death. But the courage of solidarity leads us to stand above the fear of infection and touch the other in his suffering and to lift him out of exclusion, loss of relationship and death. Then we become witnesses to the power of God in the world.