From the Margins to the Center
6th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Antonio P. Pueyo
Reproduced with Permission

Almost twenty years ago, a group of former patients in a leprosy sanitarium, started life with the mainstream population. They were cured of the disease. The stigma however remained. The aim of the project was to move a dozen patients and their families from institutionalized care to normal life. They chose to leave the walls of the sanitarium and begin to live independently through farming. An NGO group provided the parcels of land and the initial support. Just like the early settlers they had to tame the wilderness as they build and sustain their community.

Action starter: Identify the marginalized around you.

There were many obstacles to returning to normal life. There was the struggle for daily physical survival in trying to eke a living our of the land. They also had to deal with the fears of the neighbors who at first avoided them because of the dreaded disease. They had to deal with internal tensions as they tried to keep the community together.

They have succeeded. At present, they are tilling the land and are raising farm animals. Their children are in school, some in college. They are accepted in the community, and some are even taking active leadership roles in their chapels and local government unit. From the margins they have moved to the center.

This story is true. This illustrates in a modern way what the Gospel story this Sunday is telling us -- Jesus restoring a leper to health and bringing him back to community life.

In Biblical times, there was yet no cure for leprosy. To protect the community, there were strict regulations. Any skin disease was suspected to be leprosy, until declared otherwise by the priests (Lev. 13). The diseased person must live outside the camp – in the margins.

These strict regulations still prevailed during the time of the Lord Jesus, as the Gospel relaters (Mk 1:40-45). It was a great shock to the bystanders to see two people breaking the taboos. The leper who was supposed to avoid people, approached Jesus and asked for healing, “If you so will you can make me clean.” Jesus on the other hand broke the rules, not only by speaking to the leper but by touching him, saying, “I will, be clean.”

The man was healed and despite Jesus’ admonition not to tell anyone, he began spreading the good news.

Leprosy is not only a disease that afflicts the body. Despite the fact that modern medicine can cure it. People are still afraid of being near a leper or a former leprous patient. The person feels alienated from relatives and friends. The reason why the program mentioned earlier was conceptualized, was because some former patients could not even go home to their own families. Curing the patient of the disease also means making possible the healing of social relationships. From being marginalized he becomes part of the community again.

There are other diseases today that leads to marginalization. The great freedom fighter Nelson Mandela of South Africa is not just an advocate of freedom and racial equality. He also advocates support for the victims of AIDS. This new form of leprosy is taking its toll on so many people not only in Africa but around the world. He tells the story of visiting an AIDS patient. Many people accompanied him to the door of the house. After he talked to the patient and went out of the house, all the people fled away from him!

This is marginalization. The ministry of Jesus includes the restoration of broken relationships. It includes the recognition and restoration of people’s dignity so that they can live as persons created in the image and likeness of God. It includes empowering people to move from the margins to the center.