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The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 11, 2018

     Last Sunday, the reading from Mark’s gospel brought us stories of Jesus healing one sick person after another, beginning at the local synagogue where he healed a possessed person, and continuing with Simon Peter’s mother-in law who was in bed with a fever.  Before long, if you remember, he had the whole town at his door, clamoring for his healing touch.

     Today we have yet another healing, the healing of a leper, but this healing takes us into tricky territory because it involves more than healing: it also involves breaking the Law. The leper broke the Law and so did Jesus. Let me explain.

     The Law, when it came to lepers, was clear. We heard it in today’s reading from the Book of Leviticus. The Law said that lepers were to dwell apart, to remain as far as possible away from people and, if people should chance to come near, the leper was to make his whereabouts known by shouting “unclean, unclean!”  There was good reason for this. Leprosy was thought to be highly contagious; people lived in dread of any sort of contact with lepers. So the leper in today’s gospel story clearly broke the Law. By coming out of the shadows, walking right up to Jesus, kneeling down before him, and even daring to engage him in conversation, he broke the Law. And you can imagine how people must have reacted. Their reaction must have ranged from horror to indignation to fear for their lives - fear that they would now catch the dread disease.

     But the leper was not the only one to break the Law in this story. Jesus - in allowing the leper to approach him, and then entering into a conversation with him, and doing the unthinkable by actually reaching out and touching him - Jesus also broke the law. 

     As so often in the gospels, Jesus, a devout Jew who revered the Law, simply refused to be bound or straight-jacketed by the Law.  Everything he does in this encounter makes it clear that people are more important to him than laws, no matter how sacred.  So, moved with pity, he allows the leper to come right up to him; he converses with him and goes even further by touching him. Jesus knew that this poor outcast of a man who had been living on the outer margins of society needed more than just physical healing - that he also needed a human encounter, human contact, human warmth. That’s why he did the truly unthinkable - reaching out and touching him. In doing so, he not only gave him healing, he also gave him love and acceptance. He welcomed him back to the community.

     I can’t help but think of Pope Francis and his efforts to reach out to people in marriages not recognized by the Church for whatever reason. He knows that many of them feel like lepers and outcasts, and so he’s intent on doing everything he can to reach out to them, to assure them that they are loved, part of the family, part of the community.

     But none of this is about flaunting the Law. Jesus may bend the Law but he also honors it – just as Pope Francis honors Church teaching. Jesus honors the Law when he tells the man to go and show himself to the priest and to make the customary offering called for in the Law of Moses. Curiously, he also tells him to keep quiet about the healing. That’s most likely because he doesn’t want people to get a skewed, one-sided notion of what it means for him to be the Messiah.

     But the healed leper does not keep quiet. Once he is healed, he can’t contain himself. He immediately goes about spreading the story.  And that’s where this story gets a fascinating little twist to it. The more the news gets out that Jesus has healed a leper, the more he is swarmed wherever he goes. Everyone wants a piece of him, everyone wants his healing touch - so much so that, as Mark puts it, it becomes “impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly” and he has to remain outside the towns in deserted places. Do you see the twist here, the irony?  Jesus is now the one who has to dwell apart from the community. In a sense, Jesus has become the leper!

     My friends, the Jesus of this story is the same Jesus we call out to from whatever leprosy holds us in its grip - fear, sin, pain, alienation, confusion – it matters not. The leper’s prayer is our prayer: “Lord if you will you can make me clean,” Lord, if you will you can calm my fears, if you will you can set me free. And this is a prayer that Jesus hears.  He is always moved to pity by our prayer for help. He stretches out his hand to us, touches us, and gently assures us, “I do will it. Be healed.” 

     As with the leper, Jesus puts us and our needs first, puts them before any laws or rules. He is here now to welcome us as he did the leper. His Word is full of power for our healing; his Eucharist is full of nourishment and strength for our journey.  Like the leper, let us approach him with confidence and feel his healing touch!

Father Michael G. Ryan





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