Commentary on the Gospel of

George Butterfield-Creighton University - former faculty member


The first reading for today always seemed rather harsh to me - until the Covid19 pandemic hit. For a country that didn’t have hospitals, look how practical this passage is. Leprosy could be a variety of skin diseases. However, many of them were quite deadly. So, what do you do when a person contracts one of these? It was the priests who determined whether or not a person had the disease. They would either declare that you had it or you didn’t. If you had it, consider what the sick person was to do. First, they were to tear their clothes and keep their head bare. This is something that people could see from a distance, if they happened upon the sick person. Second, they were to muffle their beard which has essentially been understood to mean that they are to cover their mouth. The rabbis discussed how close a person should get to someone with leprosy. If there was no wind, they thought that you should not get any closer than four cubits. By the way, four cubits is six feet. Third, if someone happened to get too close, the sick person was to cry out “Unclean, unclean!” Finally, the leprous person is to be quarantined. They can have a set place to live but it must be outside the camp. If the skin sores disappeared, the person would show themselves to the priest who would declare them clean. One thing this passage of scripture has taught me is not to criticize ancient practices unless you spend the time to fully understand them and the reasons for them. Could a place that didn’t have hospitals have a more practical and modest approach to a communicable disease?

The Gospel reading tells the story of a leprous man who broke with the law and actually approached Jesus. That must have taken a lot of courage, for he certainly could have gotten in a lot of trouble for that. Jesus didn’t flinch and gave the man what he requested, full and complete healing. What compassion Jesus had. Lepers could live out their lives without human contact. Who would knowingly touch a leper? Jesus. Following the law, he told the man to go and show himself to the priest who would declare him clean. He also told him to keep the healing a secret. Jesus wasn’t ready for people to get king or Messiah ideas about him. Sadly, the man didn’t listen to Jesus but spread the story about to the point that Jesus’ ministry was hindered.

The psalmist says that blessed is the man “in whose spirit there is no guile.” Since two of today’s readings are about people with deadly diseases, the psalmist made me think of my good friend, Doctor Ed Thornton, from Denton, Texas. Ed was the ER doctor at one of the local hospitals for many years. He retired from this and became one of those traveling doctors who would go wherever there was a catastrophe. He was in New Orleans during Katrina. Name an event over the last fifteen years that caused a health crisis and needed doctors and you would find that Ed was there. But eventually he retired from that, too. Recently the locals contacted him and asked for his help with Covid19 patients. They were swamped and needed his help. He answered the call only to eventually contract the illness and succumb to it a week later. I think of Ed because he was a man without guile. In hearing of his death, I thought, could I possibly find anyone who would have something bad to say about him? I concluded that I could not. He could tell you his political or religious views and you might be one hundred percent opposed to them but you still couldn’t bring yourself to dislike Ed. He just had a way about him that made people feel loved and appreciated. During this pandemic when many people are feeling isolated and alone, think of those heroes who answered the call for you and your family. Think of those Doctor Eds in your life.

May the spirit of Jesus who loved the sick, and the spirit of Doctor Ed who could so beautifully minister to the sick, fill us and grant us the Lord’s peace. Amen.


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