There’s a story told about St. Francis of Assisi. Before he became a Christian, Francis hated lepers. In fact, any time he saw a leper he held his nose and rode away on his horse. Now this wasn’t an unusual response to lepers. Lepers have a disease that literally causes the nerves in the body to begin dying. As they die the person is no longer aware of or able to deal with secondary infections and so body parts literally rot and fall off them. In the ancient world the disease was thought of us as highly communicable and so lepers were often forced to live in separate colonies or outside of town so as not to spread the disease. It’s understandable why a rotting, stinking, covered in skin lesions man was not something Francis wanted to be close to.
But the story goes that as Francis began to grow in his faith, he found the Lord commanding him to love all those things that he had once despised and that God would strengthen him to do so. The story goes that soon after this, Francis met a leper on the road and rather than riding away he jumped from his horse ran to the leper, offered him money, and kissed him on his hand and cheek. That not being enough, Francis demanded from the leper the location of the leper colony he lived in and the next day went there bringing money for all the lepers and refusing to leave until he had kissed every last one of them.
I thought of this story this week as I put a new addition in my office. It’s a black shiny case and written on the outside in bold white letters is one word NALOXONE. Nalaxone for those of you who don’t know is a medication that helps reverse an overdose and give a person a chance to receive medical treatment rather than die. In the middle of the fentanyl crisis here in Vancouver it’s become a buzz word and a necessary commodity in many first aid kits.
I thought of it because as I put it on the shelf I heard that still small voice that speaks to me sometimes asking if I was willing to kiss the lepers. Now we don’t exactly have lepers anymore—that disease is treatable by modern medicine. But we do have their societal equivalent. Those that we would rather ignore or pretend don’t exist, those that we find less than loveable folks like drug addicts, or the homeless. Yet the call of Christ has always been to go and to kiss the leper.
Don’t believe me? Go through the New Testament and see how many times Jesus approaches or touches a leper. Now add in all the times he touches other undesirables: the blind, the lame, the Samaritan, the demon possessed. Jesus’ ministry is definitely concerned with these people. In fact, Jesus himself is quick to point out that He hasn’t come for the healthy but to call the sick and walk among them as a doctor. He tells His disciples that when He returns His highest praise will be for those who fed the hungry, clothed the poor, cared for the sick and imprisoned, and yes I think I can add kissed the leper. For He says what you did for these, the least of my brothers and sisters, it is as if you did it for me.
I don’t know about you but on the day I stand before the Father, I want to be surrounded by lepers I’ve cared for because I’m convinced that with them is where Jesus will be.