6th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)
February 11, 2018 by
David Jackson in
Reflections on Sunday Gospels
Boundary breaking healing.
Introduction: Both the First Reading and the Gospel speak about Leprosy. The first reading gives teaching on how lepers are to be treated. The people of Jesus time treated lepers in this way. In the Gospel we get a very different treatment of a leper by Jesus.
Homily: Some time back the movie Jesus Christ Superstar came out. One of the scenes from that movie which was seared into my memory was the scene when the lepers approached Jesus. The scene was set in an isolated, out of the way place. It was dark as I recall and suddenly out from behind the rock formations emerged forms. These forms had their heads covered with a kind of hood. They cried out “unclean, unclean.”
Once when giving this homily, I was wearing a beautiful purple vestment which had a hood. After mentioning the scene from the movie Jesus Christ Superstar, I turned my back to the Congregation, I flung the hood up over my head and haltingly approached the congregation. I nervously blurted out the words, “If you will you can make me clean.” I then went on with the following reflections on this Gospel passage.
I would first suggest that we try to put ourselves in the place of those lepers. What happens to a person if for years they have been forced to live in isolated places and every time they approached someone the person either shied away or perhaps even shrieked away? Lepers were people with physical ailments. This sickness might have consumed a part of their limbs; they might have been on some rude sort of crutch; their faces may have been disfigured. Is it not possible that the isolation of the leper was as bad and did as much harm to him/her as the physical disease? We have to be struck by this man’s daring. What allowed him to approach Jesus? Was it that he was so frustrated with the disease that out of desperation he approached Jesus? Did he think that things could not get any worse? Had he perhaps heard rumors about Jesus? He was able to approach Jesus and kneel down and beseech him.
I wonder how these words of the leper were spoken. Did he hurriedly and nervously blurt out the words, “If you will you can make me clean.” Jesus tells him not to tell anyone, yet he spreads the news everywhere. This is completely understandable to me. Even after an eight day silent retreat people have much to talk about. This man had been isolated for a long time. Just the experience of being part of the other people would have impelled him to speak, I think. Besides this he had a marvelous cure to tell them about. I wonder if he did go show himself to the priest. Remember elsewhere in the Gospels we learn that Jesus record with lepers isn’t too good. Remember the ten who were cured, only one of them returned to thank Jesus. I might even wonder if the story of the ten is connected with the story of this man. Did he go back and tell his brethren about his experience with Jesus? Had he heard about Jesus from them?
Let us look also at Jesus. He was moved with pity. The Revised Standard Version of this Gospel says, “Moved to anger.” This strong Greek word means having your intestines turn! It wasn’t the leper that disturbed Jesus. I think it was a combination of the disease and the way lepers were treated by other people that made Jesus angry. Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. According to Jewish law this touching made Jesus unclean. Jesus gave him the stern warning and dismissed him. Jesus is forced to go into hiding. Jesus is now a marked man, considered unclean in the city due to his contact with the leper. This first symbolic action of healing thus sets the tone for Jesus’ campaign: liberation provokes conflict.
Interestingly enough there is not a call for faith in this miracle. The way Mark develops his Gospel there is no call for faith in the early ministry of Jesus. This came later.
At the end of today’s passage Jesus ends up in the desert places and probably the leper is in the city. We probably can learn something about what to expect in our following of Jesus if we exercise his concern for outcasts. We might find ourselves in a different place or a different relationship with some people. Fr. James Martin, S.J. who wrote the book BUILDING A BRIDGE (How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community can enter into a relationship of Respect of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity) has come under cruel, ” vitriolic, uncharitable, and downright mean comments. which are shocking, embarrassing, and unbecoming for anyone who claims a Catholic faith that values communion, love, reconciliation, dialogue, and human dignity. (“This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” – John 13:35.) Kevin Ahern
From the leper we can learn that fear of approaching another is part of our life and living. Perhaps we have experienced the fear of approaching someone dear to us to ask for forgiveness. We goofed and are sorry but are not sure of their ability to forgive.
We must also examine our attitudes. Who are outcasts to us? For many people prisoners and ex-convicts are outcasts. Many elderly people are outcasts, actually cast out, out of their home and into a nursing home. Some of these elderly are forgotten, alone and isolated. Dying people are sometimes outcasts, the seriously ill, people who have been in mental hospitals, people who speak a language different from us, people who look different, people with a different sexual orientation, people who have contacted AIDS, etc.
From Jesus we learn that he is concerned for the outcast, for the sufferer. In fact these people seem to strike a special chord in Jesus’ heart. Many times people who were excluded by others were included by Jesus.
We can dismiss the story of the leper by saying that Jesus could do miracles and we can’t. But we are still called to be imitators of Jesus. We should come to Jesus first with our need for healing, for wholeness (whatever form that need has in us). Who is Jesus telling me to look on differently, perhaps to stretch out and touch? We ask Jesus to heal us and make us healers.