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Modern Day Lepers

June 28, 2013

“When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.’ And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.”
-Matthew 8:1-3
A story I heard this morning in the news and this reading from Matthew seems linked; St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh has hired an ex-felon and their reasoning is similar to that of Jesus’ as related by Matthew in the above section of the Gospel he recorded. When queried by the media, officials stated that this person had “…paid their debt to society…” and that she was an exemplary employee.
So, why do I say that Jesus’ healing of a leper and an ex-felon being given another chance at life are linked? First, let’s look at the leper in Matthew’s Gospel narrative; leprosy was a death sentence and one that was slow and agonizing partially because you became a pariah, isolated from your family and community. Whenever you came into the proximity of any ‘normal’ people, you had to yell out that you were unclean and a leper which would usually result in that person or persons throwing rocks at you to chase you away.
But Jesus was different; He not only allowed this man to approach Him, but when queried by this leper about making him clean, Jesus touches him! Think of that! Under Jewish law, touching someone or something unclean made you unclean and there was the very real risk of contracting leprosy from such contact as well. Jesus could have just said, “Be healed” and that would have done the same thing, without the stigma of actually allowing this unclean person into your proximity and then actually touching them, but He did touch the leper and thereby gave us an extraordinary example of mercy and grace.
The administration of St. Augustine’s University has reached out to a modern day leper in the same way. Many of our local colleges and universities have an iron-clad rule regarding the hiring of anyone with a felony; “NO!” How do I know this? I was released from prison in 2010 and have applied for over 400 different positions in that time and, except for two part-time jobs, all have the same response to an ex-felon asking for a chance, “NO!” Some of those in administrative positions at the local colleges and universities do empathize with my desire to find meaningful work, but policy is policy and cannot be changed (apparently). What I find so amusing about this (humor and my faith have kept me from losing all hope) is that UNC continues to send me letters asking me to contribute to the alumni fund (I graduated from UNC in 1981). They are all too content to accept donations from me, just don’t come knocking on the door.
So, to the fine folks at St. Augustine’s University; you wear His name well and are a shining example to the ‘big-time’ universities who continue to treat ex-felons as modern day lepers.

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