If you wish, you can make me clean
A lot of us can relate to the feeling of alienation and helplessness the leper in today's Gospel must have felt. Imagine: You have an illness which, by Mosaic Law, actually requires you to live on the fringe of society. It's not just that people treat you differently or ostracize you; it's that those people feel religiously justified in doing so, and you feel religiously mandated to steer clear of "the Clean". After all, if they come into contact with you, they too will be come unclean, and that's forbidden. You're literally unlovable.
By the time you approach Jesus you have become resigned to that life. But based on nothing other than a rumor and a feeling, you approach this man and offer him your suffering. You offer him your loneliness and your loss of self. You offer him your scars and disfigurements and pain. And he touches you and takes all of it from you. I don't know about you, but when people approached me and asked me how it came to be that I walked among them again and was apparently clean, I don't think I'd be able to keep the truth inside.
The most important moment in today's Gospel isn't when Jesus heals the leper, in my opinion. The most important part, rather, is the moment just before that when Jesus defies social norms and the Law, even, to touch this unclean man. Our God is a God who embraces us when we are unclean, not one who waits until after healing us to embrace us.
Many of us who suffer from chronic physical illness, mental illness, loneliness or any condition which places us on the fringes of society, can hear a Gospel reading like this and feel a little disheartened at our condition. We've prayed for healing, but healing hasn't been granted. First of all, don't give up praying for miracles. God may not give you exactly what you want, but God will give you what you need, and the difference between those two things will be made clear to us. Second of all, remember that while the world shuns you and makes you feel like you need to change in order to be loved and embraced, God embraces you as you are. So if you get mad at God for not healing you of whatever burdens you, remind yourself that you are already in God's arms. Could it be that God loves you just as you are? That alone makes you clean.
You can watch Father Michael Harrington's homily about how important the people Jesus healed were to his ministry right here: