In a recent press story there was an account of Pope Francis embracing a man with Neurofibromatosis, a disease that causes one to be covered in tumors. In that press story is a modern retelling of that story of the leper telling Jesus “if you wish you can make me clean”, and Jesus replying “I do wish it. “ Neurofibromatosis and Leprosy are two different illnesses, yet both manifest themselves with an extreme distortion of the flesh. When Jesus heals that leper though, how many simply envision a healing of the flesh? When Pope Francis embraced that man with Neurofibromatosis, how many witnessed Francis’s healing of that man’s disease? With diseases such as these so many see the distortions of the flesh, yet fail to see the dying of the soul that so often accompanies these grossly disfiguring diseases. People many times will argue the miracle regarding the healing of those visible scars as if that flesh is all important, yet the spiritual side of the person is often not even a consideration. If the leper journeys to the temple priest to declare their cure, how many focus on the visual and ignore the spiritual? Both the physical and spiritual effects of illness are important.
It was that spiritual side of disease though that was of concern to Jesus, and in that ancient time people were considered dead or alive in both the bodily and spiritual sense. A dead or disfigured soul was as frightening as a dead or disfigured body, and most times those disfiguring diseases disfigured a person’s soul even more than their body. It was often a dead soul that eventually led the way to that dead body. Often too it is not only disfiguring illness that kills the soul, there were a host of social laws that could kill a person’s soul, and then their life in body. Along with disease there are social stigmas, and the accompanying social ideals. Those social ideals through were human ideals, and not those of divinity.
Pope Francis in embracing that soul with a disfigured body did indeed heal the worst part of that disease. He healed that part of the disease that caused the soul to die. In reviving that soul, there is a true revitalization of the flesh. An energetic soul does lead to an energetic body. It is that connection that is so important to remember when Jesus heals people. His concern was for body and soul, but perhaps with more emphasis on soul. When Pope Francis healed the man with Neurofibromatosis, who could miss Jesus healing the leper?