6th Sunday in Ordinary Time: 14 February 2021
|Jean-Marie Melchior Doze, Jesus Healing the Leper|
I. Even a leper is a child of God
One of the beautiful things that a person with chronic illness would love to see in life is one's complete healing. This is what we see in the life of this man with leprosy in today's gospel (Mark 1:40-45). In this interaction between Jesus and a man who asks to be made clean, we see trust and faith from the leper, and compassion and willingness to act from Jesus. What a joy that man must have experienced having restored his health completely and reincorporated into the community where he was once an outcast since he got leprosy! In the Old Testament, leprosy is depicted as punishment for disobedience of God’s commands, a god-sent curse (Num 12:12–15; 2 Kgs 5:27; 15:5). Moreover, considered “unclean”—unfit to worship or live with the Israelites. The lepers are considered “stillborn,” the living dead (Num 12:12). Awfully describes the requirements and prohibitions imposed on lepers in today’s First Reading (Lev 13:1-2, 44-46)—torn garments, unshaven head, covered beard—are signs of death, penance, and mourning (Lev 10:6; Ez 24:17). Lepers could live out their lives without human contact, a complete ban on his functions as a member of human society, in other words, a complete social alienation. This gives an impression that only God can cure leprosy and cleanse from sin (2 Kgs 5:7), and only God has the power to bring about what He wills (Is 55:11; Wis 12:18). Jesus was 'moved with pity' looking at the state of life of the man with leprosy who does not even have a name to call. Those who have seen a leper will understand what it means to have those wounds on the body with that disease.
One of the powerful experiences of my novitiate life was being with leprosy patients for three weeks in Sumanahalli in Bangalore in the year 1994. In spite of this pathetic disease of leprosy, the patients continued to live in resilience and hope for the best. The colony of lepers has its own rhythm and life. They lived in quarantine not for weeks or months but for years. For them, life is an unending lockdown. What they experience especially seclusion from society cannot be understood by any other person than one who has this leprosy. Perhaps, that must be the reason why Jesus even without asking a question about the person's belief in him reaches out to heal. Moreover, "Jesus moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him" (Mk 1: 41). His ritual sign is accompanied by a divine word (“Be made clean”). And, like God’s word in creation (“Let there be”), Jesus’ word “does” what He commands (Psalm 33:9). The humanity of Jesus touches this untouchable of society.
II. Courage, in place of useless and false images about ourselves
We see tremendous courage in that leper. Listening to the first reading of today, one should know that a person with leprosy was condemned life long to be out of the sight of the people. However, we see here the leper in front of Jesus and his disciples begging for a healing touch. Perhaps in order to get the healing touch of the Lord, we need to come out of our fears and anxieties, low self-image and useless false opinions about ourselves which are distressing and self-defeating. In the book, Solving Yourself, Yuben de Wu-Hsin says, "The central problem is not that you think too highly of yourself, nor is it that you think too lowly about yourself, instead it is that you think constantly of yourself." Unfortunately thinking very badly about oneself with unending negativity is itself is leprosy for such a person.
What is beautiful in the Gospel reading is that a leprous man breaks the law of Moses and approaches Jesus with confidence. Jesus appreciates his courage and determination and gives him what was requested: a full and complete healing. What a compassion Jesus manifests here! Jesus touches a man to whom no one dared to come closer. The Latin writer Cicero would say, "If you have no confidence in self, you are twice defeated in the race of life. With confidence, you have won even before you have started." Indeed, the healing by Jesus was a victory for both the leper and to Jesus. In fact, Jesus showed to the people he could heal not only the dreaded disease but also make a person whole and give back to the community.
III. God's love endures any suffering
Our image of God is so crucial while reading the scriptures. Our experiences of life bring meaning to the words and images that portray narratives of the Bible. We see here a great sense of joy and consolation when we read this story because we can see the eyes of a loving God whom Jesus reveals to us, who has compassion on us and desires us to be nourished and cared for. Are there parallels with the coronavirus pandemic and the story of the Bible? People wanting a cure; others breaching safe distancing; some doubting the science; others not observing basic instructions. Many have turned inward in their outlook of life or put it bluntly, many have embraced inward-looking spirituality, a navel-gazing, fake spirituality.
Often we ask God for many things and perhaps get disappointed when our prayers are not always answered in the way we requested. The prayer of the leper is simple: "If you will, you can make me clean" (Mk 1:40). An authentic prayer does not change God but changes me. Even if the healing does not take place due to my intense prayers but prayers will help me to look at the illness from a better perspective. The prayer of Jesus "Father, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Mt 6:10) should become a reality in our lives when we see things not moving the way we want. Let's allow God to be God and His Will to be done. He knows what is best for us. Even in his distressful suffering, the leper wanted to know what was God's Will in his life. What a beautiful way of praying! As we prepare ourselves to enter into Lent, we might like to examine ourselves. We should ask the Lord to take away the guilt of our sins on our knees like the leper. Just like the leper, we should rejoice in the Lord and spread the good news of His mercy. A healed person cannot keep quiet. He or she has to proclaim the healing touch to others. We also should testify to our healing by living changed lives. As Paul says in today’s Epistle, we should do even the littlest things for the glory of God and that others may be saved (1 Cor 10:31).
Questions for Reflections:
1. What difference has the presence of Jesus made in your life to come out of your suffering?
2. Are you ready to kneel beside the leper and ask for your own healing with utmost faith and hope?
3. What do you want Jesus to do for you if Jesus is next to you and looks at you with deep compassion and listening to your request?
4. How are we being invited to reveal God to one another as Jesus reveals God to us? How are we being invited to remember our God as a God of Love?
5. How can we best reach out to others with love during this coronavirus pandemic?
Jesus the healer and the consoler, be with us at this moment of our history to heal and touch us with the warmth of your love. We ask for your help during this unending coronavirus pandemic. Help us Lord to have that same urgency of healing and readiness to come to you in order to receive your mercy and touch. May our lives be ready to embrace your saving power every day of our lives as we struggle to keep our phase with you. We ask you to preserve and keep us, this day also, from all sin and evil, that in all our thoughts, words, and deeds we may serve and please you. We make this prayer in Jesus' name. Amen.
- Olvin Veigas, SJ
13 February 2021
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