6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 15, 2015 – Year B
Readings: Lv 13:1-2, 44-46; Psalm 32; 1 Cor 10:31-11:1; Mk 1:40-45
by Rev. Louis Benoit
In today’s gospel, Jesus heals a leper. This is a little bit different from other healings that Jesus does. A leper was an unclean person and he was isolated from the rest of society. He had none of the support of society. He had to live apart. The only people he was living with were other lepers. The only thing to look forward to was death – a pretty miserable existence. The first reading is the description of Moses giving the law for lepers and you get a pretty good idea from that first reading how a leper had to live.
So this leper is making a very bold move. He approached Jesus, something lepers weren’t supposed to do. He goes beyond the law and he humbly approaches Jesus and asks for healing. And Jesus also goes beyond the law. He touches the leper – something you were not supposed to do – something that, according to the Jewish tradition, made Jesus ritually unclean. He touched the leper. It was unheard of.
However, because of Jesus and this leper going beyond the law, the leper experiences Jesus’s healing touch. The leper could now go back to being a functioning member of the community. He could go to his old relationships. He could become what he used to be through the healing touch of Jesus.
However, the healing touch of Jesus does more than just cure the leper because now the former leper becomes an evangelist. He goes out and he preaches Jesus. So the touch of Jesus does more than just heal this man. It brings him into a new level of existence. He becomes an evangelist for Jesus.
So in our lives today, how do we need to come to Jesus for healing? How many times has our need for healing kept us apart from others? How many times has our need for healing excluded us from community with other people?
This is an ideal time for this gospel, because this week, we begin Lent. Rather than just giving up something, maybe we need to look at where we need to change lives, where we need to allow Jesus to touch us and heal us and integrate us with each other. If we do that, then Lent can be a time of new life that we celebrate at Easter – a new life with Jesus and a new life with people around us.
The flip side of that coin is important, too. Because in baptism and confirmation you have received the spirit of Jesus, you need to be the healing touch of Jesus for others. We’re all called to it. You continue Jesus’s ministry in life, to be able to reach out and touch those people who are excluded in some way. Help make us one Body of Christ.
Another thing about Jesus in this miracle story is that Jesus, in touching the leper, is radically free. There are no social boundaries holding Jesus back from other people. He is radically free. No social boundary. And are we willing to touch others in life, even those we consider lepers in life, so that we can experience the radical freedom that Jesus had of not excluding people, of being open to all? It’s our call.
We have to think about who and where are the lepers in our life that we have been avoiding. We need to reach out and touch – both to bring healing to others, and having the radical freedom of the sons and daughters of God. The lepers of our life don’t have to be individual people. They can be groups of people that we like to exclude – they can be people both close by and worldwide. They are the lepers in our lives. And of course, when we embrace these people, we become fully integrated in community, and we are open to community.
All this talk of lepers reminds me of one of the conversion experiences of St. Francis of Assisi. He had a fabulous abhorrence of lepers. He couldn’t stand them or stand to get near them. When it got to the point that he could embrace a leper, it was a major conversion in his life. He had deepened his spiritual life to the point where he could embrace the lepers. Our call is to reach out and touch those who need our healing touch.
One of the differences between us and Jesus is that Jesus was the Son of God and he was totally God’s goodness reaching out. We’re not. We have our weaknesses and shortcomings, but we are called to be wounded healers. I love that term. We may be wounded ourselves, but we are called to continue the healing ministry of Jesus. How many times have we erected barriers that keep us apart from one another? We can do that very easily. We make others lepers in our lives. You know there are those two famous sides are that are always against each other? “We” and “They.” Of course WE know what THEY are like, don’t we? It happens in life. We need to break that down and get beyond it.
I had a priest friend who took over a parish that was radically divided between “We” and “They.” When he was new there and someone was coming to tell him what “They” were doing, he would listen until he got the gist of the conversation, and then he would stop the person and ask a very perceptive question. “Have you come here to go to Confession about this?” That kind of stings, doesn’t it? The person would be confused and stammer, “Well, no.” He would answer, “Well, then I don’t know why we’re talking about it.”
To deal with some of the divisions that we can bring about, we need the touch of Jesus to heal us from this. Lent is coming and it’s a great time to deal with this.
So in the Gospel, both the leper and Jesus go beyond the law to something deeper. It calls each of us to go beyond the ordinary in life, and reach out and touch those who need our touch, and to realize our need of being touched ourselves.