« … ten lepers approached Jesus. Keeping their distance, they called out….” Lk 17, 12-13.
Keeping their distance: (two metres ??): diseases that are considered to be contagious have been treated seriously through the centuries. Whether it is from fear or from love, from hateful discrimination or for caring isolation, people are obliged to keep apart. They lived away from the community and had to warn approaching people they were ‘unclean’. It was a fact of life in the structure of society in Jesus’ time; and remained so until quite recently. I think it was only in the 1970’s and 1980’s that appropriate medication was developed. Certainly in my missionary life I still came across leprosaria in Uganda and in the DRC. Now, although Hansen’s Disease remains a serious illness, it can be treated.
Then there is quarantine. When ships returning from abroad (or approaching ports elsewhere) were found to have infectious diseases on board, everyone on the vessel was obliged to stay away from land for forty days. They may have been away from their loved ones for months on end; but they had to delay seeing them. They could not risk the health of the community on land. They were not ‘free’ to infect their families, friends and others….
Leprosy became symbolic of other scourges like the Plague, the Black Death… More recently the world has been shaken by HIV/AIDS, and by Ebola or other haemorrhagic fevers. Frightening! But there are many heroic stories of ill people protecting their loved ones by refusing to be touched by them as they lay dying…
Care has improved. So has care for the carers, with protective equipment and improved sanitising. Many people have learned to take these diseases seriously. We try to avoid infecting others and being infected ourselves. We admire those who risk their lives to save others ….. and we do not admire those who irresponsibly put others at risk.
Social distancing is not a rejection of others. Wearing masks is not a break-down of communication. Forgoing that longed-for hug can be an expression of wise protective love – hard but profoundly moving. Then, there are many ways of supporting others – and no doubt we need to be creative and imaginative in creating more … together…. in the Joy of the Gospel.
John D Kirwan MHM 10 Nov 2020