The core issue: will you kiss the leper clean?

Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean and do such as this unseen,
and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?

John L. Bell & Graham Maule

This verse was sung at our Covenant of Commitment in All Souls’ Church in Belfast by a large congregation back in May last year. I wonder what many people thought it meant.

Is it a simple question from God to the believer? Simple in that it refers to the specific physical people named, ‘the blinded’, ‘the prisoners’, and ‘the leper’? Or does it have another meaning that could be more subtle?

It must be admitted that this hymn was one of the two that I picked for the service. I say that I picked: it was really that I suggested and Andrew and I both agreed on the four that were used. As long as I have known this hymn I have thought that it meant more than just those that are named.

The blinded

As far as I am concerned, the blinded means those that cannot see: those that cannot see God; those that cannot see the truth; those that cannot see their way in life; as well as those that cannot see with their physical eyes.

I believe that we all have should help others to see in all the ways above. Human beings are constantly searching. Searching without being able to see would be fruitless.

The prisoners

Not just those who are held against their will physically, but those with emotional issues. Once again, it is not as simple as those that are held hostage.

The lepers

When I first played this hymn and sang the words to Andrew, we both cried at the words ‘Will you kiss the leper clean’ for we know that many people in our society live feeling like the lepers of the past – and still in some places. Those who feel like this may have good reason. Many people living with illnesses or lifestyles that are not understood by others in society often feel cut off from the very society that ought to be helping them.

The Lepers among Us

Whilst I don’t agree with the thrust of the arguments from Core Issues Trust concerning the wrongness of same-sex attraction, I do feel that the conference being held next week has quite an apt title

The Lepers among Us.

Far from being a negative use, I think it is quite a positive step. For if all around us bore in mind how our Blessed Lord treated the lepers.

Then a leper appeared and went to his knees before Jesus, praying, “Master, if you want to, you can heal my body.” Jesus reached out and touched him, saying, “I want to. Be clean.” Then and there all signs of the leprosy were gone.

St Matthew, 8.2–3, The Message

and from St Mark,

A leper came to [Jesus], begging on his knees, “If you want to, you can cleanse me.” Deeply moved, Jesus put out his hand, touched him, and said, “I want to. Be clean.” Then and there the leprosy was gone, his skin smooth and healthy.

St Mark 1.40-42, The Message

we would see that Our Blessed Lord found the marginalised – the lepers – whilst out telling the Good News to everyone. Remember that in those days, leprosy was often seen as a punishment from God, and the Jewish religion declared lepers unclean. Lepers had to live on the outskirts of town far from the rest of the population.

If Our Lord were travelling in urban Belfast tonight, who are the people that He would see as the outcasts, the lepers? Would He see the LGBT community? Or those who are living with HIV? Or those who are homeless?

I believe that He would see all of them, and many more that our human eyes cannot see (being blinded) or do not want to see (being in a prison of our own consciousness). So let us all consider who the lepers in our life are and seek to include them in our society.

It is not just the Christian Church that needs to recognise the ‘lepers among us’ but everyone in society who excludes people simply because they ‘do not fit’. As Cllr Andrew Muir puts it,

… people should be accepted and embraced without qualification rather than excluded and stigmatised.

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