Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 11, 2018 – Year B
Readings: Lv 13:1-2, 44-46 / Ps 32 / 1 Cor 10:31 – 11:1 / Mk 1:40-45
by Rev. Mr. Eddie Craig, Permanent Deacon
The gospel today picks up where we left off last week. We have Jesus performing another miracle of healing. Now, at first glance, you could say, “Oh, this is Jesus, the healer. He’s doing another miracle.” There’ve been many attempts in the past hundred or so years to explain the miracles away. You see that happening all the way back to the time of the founding of our country.
But the Church has always maintained that miracles in the scriptures are just that: They’re miracles. They are supernatural intervention into the world. They are a disruption caused by God of the way things naturally work. Last week we had Jesus healing the mother-in-law of Simon.
But when you look closely at this week’s gospel, you’ll see that there are some fundamental differences this time around. Two things stand out, and they both point to the underlying theme, not only of the gospel, but of the readings as a whole.
The first one is curious: Jesus told the leper, “Be quiet about this.” But the leper completely ignored Him. That seems odd, doesn’t it? You expect hellfire to rain down on him because he disobeyed God. But that doesn’t happen.
If you read on in the gospel, you’ll see the effect of that. Why would Jesus want to keep this secret? Because the miracles are obviously getting people’s attention. After this, Jesus’ ministry had to change a little bit.
In last week’s gospel, Jesus was teaching in the synagogue. At the end of this gospel, it says: “Word spread abroad, and it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.” So He had to shift His ministry to outside of the town. He had to hold back from the core of the community a little bit.
The second underlying difference in this gospel is the ailment: leprosy. Leprosy is a terrible disease. But leprosy in the context of scripture means more. As you hear in the first reading today, if someone was a leper, they had to remain outside of the community. They were no longer able to join in the communal worship that was so fundamental to the Jewish identity. They were outcasts. For all intents and purposes, they were no longer a Jew. It was so fundamental to the Jewish identity to be able to worship together, to live together, to go to the synagogue together. Community was everything.
What does that mean for us? Last week, when Jesus healed someone, they were identified. It was the mother-in-law of Simon. This week we have absolutely no information about the leper. Scholars tell us when we encounter that in scriptures, we are to interpret that as: That is us. The “no-named” in scriptures, especially the gospels, are us. In this story, we are the leper.
What does that mean? We’re a leper in the story. We’re cut off. We’re separated from the community. And being separated from the community, we are therefore removed further away from God, which takes us to the core point: Christianity fundamentally is about community. A Christian who is isolated is incomplete.
You all get that. That’s why you’re here today. You understand that it is important to come together as a community. But I think especially in our Western culture, we don’t fully appreciate how fundamental that is.
Think about the way we talk about the Church. What do we call the Church? We call it the Body of Christ. We are the Body of Christ. Where else do we use that term? We use it for the Eucharist: It’s the Body and Blood of Christ. So the community is fundamental.
But even in our society, where the individual is so paramount, we understand that you need to come to Mass; we understand that you get something from that.
How often do we really consciously think about that? How often do we consciously contemplate the fallout of that truth? When we fail to appreciate how fundamental the community is, how fundamental the Body of Christ is, our spirituality tends to become a personal thing.
That’s not bad. Our personal relationship with Jesus is very, very important. But it is important because it serves the greater whole. Our salvation is brought about as a community.
Think about the way we talk. How many times have you heard someone say: “Father celebrated Mass for us today”? Yes, Father consecrated the Eucharist, but if you actually read the documents, WE celebrate Mass. You may not realize this, but you are all active participators in this liturgy. You all have your fundamental part to play. We oftentimes forget that.
You’ve heard Father and me talk about Exodus 90 and Ninevah 90, which some of us have been participating in. The importance of community in a group has really been made clear to me through that practice.
As part of Exodus, we meet once a week. We discuss things. We discuss our ups, and we discuss our downs. And it’s amazing how you see a theme throughout the room, how you see people struggling with the same thing. And the connection between us becomes much clearer. One thing I have taken away from this is, not just the importance of coming together as a community to celebrate Mass, but the importance of coming together in smaller groups to share our faith and to support each other.
That’s not to say that everyone is supposed to be identical. Saint Paul uses the body analogy when he talks about the Church. He says “We are many parts, but we are all one body.” He says “A hand cannot be an arm. An eye cannot be a foot,” to paraphrase. But together we make the whole, and no one part is more important than the other.
So what’s my takeaway from this? I’m reminded in the Gospel of John, shortly before Jesus goes out and is arrested, He prays. And when He prays, He prays “I pray that they may be one. Just like I am in you, Father, and you are in Me.” He prays for unity, and sadly we haven’t got there yet.
But I think, going into this season of Lent, if we all become a little more aware of the importance of that community, if we all become a little more aware of that shared connection that we have, I think maybe at Easter we’ll be a little bit closer to Jesus’ vision.