THE SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

 

Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46

1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1

Mark 1:40-45

I doubt anyone will find consolation in the proclamation of the first reading from Leviticus.  It is the Lord who speaks to Moses and Aaron telling them how a person with leprosy must be brought to the priest and there be declared unclean.  S/he is not welcome in the camp and must cry out: Unclean, unclean!  Then everyone who might be unaware and come near the leper will hear the warning and avoid contact with the poor wretch.  Of course the reason for the regulation is the fear of contamination.  It was thought that leprosy was highly contagious and simply touching a leprous person could spread the disease.  Still, the law is painful to hear.  We’ll be consoled by today’s gospel.  Wait and see.

We might be tempted to heave a huge sigh of relief that lepers are no longer treated in this fashion.  These are far more civilized times, aren’t they?  Perhaps.  Unless we take our blinders off.  Lepers may not be shunned for fear of contagion, but we are far from a classless society in which all people are treated equally.  Racism is far from extinct.  The other day I read the story of two white men who purposefully drove over and killed another person they thought was black.  How many times have you heard people voice concern for our president, fearing assassination because of his race?  Sexism may be on the wane, but it is far from extinct.  Remember the young man who was beaten to death because he was gay and was left hanging on a fence post in Wyoming?  How many wars are waged in the name of religion?  We have to ask ourselves whom would we exclude?  Whom would we feel justified in shunning?  And answer with naked honesty.

Many years ago, I was visiting a lad in the hospital who had been badly burned in a flaming car accident that killed his father and uncle and left his brother burned as well.  The boy was horribly disfigured.  We sat in a darkened room, the windows to the hall covered lest someone passing by might look inside.  The door behind me opened and a little girl wandered in.  She gasped as she caught sight of him, screamed and fled the room.  I saw tears well in his eyes.  Does God think I am ugly, too, he asked?

I remember holding in my arms a man dying with AIDS.  His mother had asked me to visit him.  She was concerned that her son was not baptized.  So she and the man’s partner and I had gathered around his bed and talked about God’s love and that Jesus died for us all as a sign of that love.  There were some long and awkward pauses as the patient little by little let go of his fears of being condemned by the church and rejected and with the sound of great trepidation in his voice he asked if Baptism could be for him.  We filled the bathtub.  I carried him to the tub, and lowered him into the waters.  And as I said the words he raised his arms like one praying.  Then the jerk of his are was like the motion made by one sinking a lengthy put.  Yes, he said.  All of us wept at his joy.  The next day he died.

Hear the confidence of the leper who kneels before Jesus.  Either he had heard Jesus teach or others had told him about Jesus and what he was rumored to be accomplishing among the poor and the desperate.  What made him conclude that what Jesus had done for others could be done for him.  Something about Jesus made the leper comfortable in approaching him.  If you wish you can make me clean.  And hear Jesus speak in his own name: I do will it.  Be made clean.  Jesus is the compassionate one, the one who willingly enters into other’s suffering and makes it his own.  Love compels him, God’s love that Jesus brings to the world.

As you hear this gospel proclaimed, the more burdened you are the more will the message console you and challenge you.  If you can imagine yourself kneeling in the leper’s place and looking into the face of Jesus, would you be able to speak with that same confidence?  You can do that if your conviction is not that your sin, whatever it is, is the most important thing.  Certainly not to trivialize it or to ignore the reality of sin, the fact is it is not nearly as important as the forgiveness that God wishes to bestow.  That is the significance of the healing of the leper.  The result will be his restoration to the community.  Your forgiveness is your restoration.  But what is the resulting challenge?

One of the wonderful proclamations of the Second Vatican Council is that all the Church’s Sacraments are public celebrations.  Even the Sacrament of Penance.  In every sacrament it is the whole Church as the Body of Christ acting.  And just as there is no such thing as a private sin, that is a sin that affects only the sinner, so too, there is no such thing as a private Sacrament of Reconciliation.  The whole Church acts.  The whole Church proclaims God’s forgiveness.  The sinner is reconciled to the whole Church.  And the whole Church rejoices.

That ought to be the proclamation of every parish and your own – that all are welcome here.  No one is shunned.  Each person who enters ought to sense immediately that this is a loving community of forgiven sinners that welcomes all who come among them to join them in Eucharist.  There are no strangers here.  All are welcome.  All are part of the one family of God, recipients of the universal and unconditional love for which we give thanks in the celebration of Eucharist.  Why else is there One Bread that we break, One Cup that we share?  See how powerful the symbols are?

There is no greater joy than that experienced in the healing of a broken relationship.  There is no greater joy than that of reconciliation.  One who is forgiven and reconciled will much more readily accept the possibility that s/he is loved by God than will the one who is shunned.  As a representative of your parish community, one who knows what it means to be forgiven, one who has stood at the table in the midst of the assembly gathered there, remember that you are sent from that Eucharist to live it in the world.  Be an ambassador of healing.  Be a sign of God’s acceptance and love where ever you go and to whomever you meet.  Bring peace.

Sincerely,

Didymus

 

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