12 Once, when Jesus was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy.

When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, ‘Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.’ 13Then Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, ‘I do choose. Be made clean.’ Immediately the leprosy left him. 14And he ordered him to tell no one. ‘Go’, he said, ‘and show yourself to the priest, and, as Moses commanded, make an offering for your cleansing, for a testimony to them.’

To be “a man covered with leprosy” was to be an outcast.

A man with leprosy should not approach a teacher. But, when Jesus is the teacher approached, the outcome is shocking. Jesus reaches across the barrier of separation, “he stretched out his hand, touched” the man with leprosy and said, “Be made clean.”

As a sign that this social pariah had been restored to normal human interaction, Jesus told him to present himself to the religious gatekeeper – “Go… and show yourself to the priest” and “make an offering for your cleansing, for a testimony to them.”

I know what it feels like to be a man “covered with leprosy,” an outlier, a person who does not really fit, does not entirely belong.

Curiously, Jesus does not change the system that excluded this leper. Jesus does not try to change the priest or fix the social structure that cast out those it deemed “unclean”.

The change in this story takes place in the leper. Touched by Jesus, he knows is no longer an outcast.  He does not go to the priest to find a sense of belonging. He goes to the priest as a “testimony” to what has taken place. The leper knows he belongs because he has been touched by the healing power of love.

I cannot depend upon you to give me a sense of belonging. There is no community or social gathering that has the power to give me a secure sense of belonging. Belonging comes only from a deep encounter with the power of love that was embodied in Jesus.

I know I belong, no matter where I may be, or how I may be treated, because love is my true nature and the source of my identity as a being created in the image of God.

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