The Compassionate Christian

Friends in the Lord, today we see this leper who comes to Jesus seeking to be healed. In ancient times, if a person had leprosy, they lived a sad life. They were ostracized from society so that no one else would get the disease. Quarantined, if you will.
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During the Middle Ages, leprosy was also a grave problem. In the early 13th century, it was estimated that there were some 19,000 lepers in Europe. But unlike in pagan times, Christian institutions sprang up to help lepers; these institutions were actually run more like monasteries; lepers were encouraged to live there for their own health as well as a quarantine.
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People then thought that those suffering from leprosy were going through Purgatory on earth, and so they were deemed to be holier than ordinary people because of their suffering. The Order of Saint Lazarus was an order of monks that began as a leper hospital outside Jerusalem. In fact, the first members were all lepers. A historian of the 12th century tells of a monk named Ralf who was so moved by the plight of lepers, that he prayed that he himself would catch leprosy, which he did.
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In those days, a leper would carry a bell to warn people, and this also attracted attention so that people might give alms to help him. In churches, there was a slot in the wall called a ‘leper squint’ by which the leper could peer through to participate in Mass.
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Leprosy is not in our modern society much, yet it remains true that when a person contracts a serious disease, they often feel alone and isolated; friends don’t come around so much, people feel too awkward to visit.
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In light of this, we see today a revealing picture of Jesus Christ. The leper who came to see him, broke the law, for he had no right to approach Jesus. But Christ does not drive him away. He meets the man in his very human need with compassion, and he healed him: ‘Be thou made clean’ and he was. Our Savior gives us an example: when someone is sick, or shunned, or unwanted, or for some reason is ostracized from the circle of humanity, we should be the first to show compassion and understanding.

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