Written by Steven Liechty
Quinn G. Caldwell
"[Jesus said to the man with leprosy] 'Be made clean!...go,' he said, 'show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.'" - Matthew 8:1-4
I like this version of the story. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have versions, but in Mark and Luke's tellings, they say that disease the man had (which was almost certainly not modern Hansen's disease) was cured, and that's why he was allowed to approach the priest.
In Matthew, it's a little less clear. It says that the man's leprosy was "cleansed." Of course that might mean he was cured, but I prefer to think it means that Jesus declared that the guy was no longer unclean, no longer to be isolated socially and ritually, regardless of whether the disease was still there or not.
As we head into Access Sunday and Disabilities Awareness Week, I prefer to think of that man marching up to the priest with Jesus right behind him, demanding his rightful place in the life of the community. I prefer to think of him like all those sisters and brothers driving up to the steps of our churches and hollering until somebody built a ramp. Like the ones who walk into church offices, worship bulletins full of blocks of tiny text in hand, and tell somebody to hit the "enlarge" button on the copier. Like the ones who demand hearing assistive devices, or ASL interpreters, or grab bars in the bathrooms, or automatic door openers so they can take their place in the assembly.
Maybe Jesus cured the man that day, but I think the real lesson here is that everybody ought to have a place in the temple, no matter what's going on with their bodies.
God, thank you for not gathering a church full of people just like me. Thank you for all the prophets you send to remind us that everybody—the disabled, the (temporarily) able, the sick, the well—is clean in your sight and everybody ought to have a place at your table. Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is Pastor and Teacher at Plymouth Congregational Church, UCC, in Syracuse, New York, and co-editor, with Curtis J. Preston, of the Unofficial Handbook of the United Church of Christ, published by The Pilgrim Press.