Sunday, February 11, 2018

MAKING CHRIST A LEPER: A homily for the Sixth Sunday, year B (Mark 1.40–45).

As usual you can listen to the audio here.
            We don't have lepers today in Ireland.  No one is at serious risk of contracting that contagious disease where one rots from one's extremities inwards.  In the Middle Ages leprosy was here.  Back then they did as was done in ancient times: they excluded the leper (or anyone suspected of having leprosy).  They even held your funeral and distributed your property to your heirs.  A leper could not enter any town nor could one join in any community activity.  The leper died to his family and friends, became the actual 'living dead,' and lived in poverty among his or her fellow lepers, abandoned, feared and hated.  There were no medications to stop the disease back then, nor any to ease its effects.  Lepers were abandoned to their own devices living a violent and savage existence while awaiting a slow and dreadful death.  In the time of our Lord leprosy was often seen as the symbol of sin and the sinner as the archetypal sinner suffering punishment.

            A leper comes to the Lord and asks not to be merely healed but to be cleansed.  In a culture that was obsessed with purity to the point of having Mikvahs, special pools or tanks used solely for ritual purification, this man's request is profound.  He is asking our Lord not only to be healed from his sickness but to be restored to complete righteousness, to bring him back from living death.  He wants to go home to own people and live a normal life again.
            Our Lord is more than willing to heal this man. It says in the original Greek that the Lord was moved in His very bowels, His guts, meaning that He was moved in the depths of His being, moved with profound compassion.  Not just willing to heal the leper, to restore him to righteousness, but the Lord reaches out and touches him!  This would render Jesus unclean according to the Jewish law.
            Our Lord then tells him to keep silent, to obey the Law of Moses and show himself to the priests, and thus be reinstated to Jewish society.  He probably did not have to go far to do this.  He probably did not need to go to Jerusalem for there were priests living all over Israel at that time.  Our Lord expects him to obey, a small request considering what the Lord has done for him.  Yet the man does not obey.  Whether he went to the priest we are not told but the man did not keep quiet.  He thought he knew better than God.  He would go his own way and so he started proclaiming what our Lord had done for him.
            The result is that our Lord can no longer go into the towns and villages.  The Lord made Himself unclean by touching the leper so that the leper might be cleansed from his sickness and freed from his living death but the leper by his disobedience has made our Lord a leper.  It is the Lord who is driven out into the wilderness by the crowds, by the hostility of those who are threatened by his teaching, his actions and his miracles.  The wilderness was not just empty space.  The wilderness was the home of outlaws, outcasts and lepers.  It was also believed to be the home of demons.  Our Lord is made a leper, an outcast and an outlaw through this man's disobedience. 

            It is the Lord Who has cleansed us our living death in Baptism and poured His Spirit on us in Confirmation, Who absolves us of the leprosy of sin and restores us to holiness and wholeness in Confession, and Who feeds us with His own Body and Blood in Holy Communion.  He holds nothing back but reaches out to us to offer us wholeness and eternal life with Him in Heaven.  He has come to us and touched us, become one of us that we might be one with Him.  He is the source of every good thing in our life and He wants us to be His witnesses, His ambassadors, to others. 
            Yet our sins have consequences.  They offend not only against our neighbour; they offend against the Lord and His Kingdom.  The Second Vatican Council itself said that the greatest cause of atheism was the behaviour of Christians.  When we disobey, when we are unwilling to take the Gospel and the teaching of Christ and His Church seriously and put it into action daily, then our behaviour becomes a counter-witness to that message.  By our disobedience, by our sins, we drive Christ out into the wilderness of our society and He becomes a leper and an outcast, unwelcome and despised by others.  
            Lent begins on Wednesday.  It is a time for us to make space for God and our neighbour in a more intense way.  Giving up sweets or going to Mass daily will mean nothing if we do not seek to change how we treat our neighbour and our Lord.  I would urge you then to make the decision not only to do a little extra but to go further and decide to inform yourself about your Faith.  Never before have Catholics in Ireland been so highly educated and had such easy access to information about their Faith and yet never before have they been so widely ignorant of that Faith. 

            In addition I urge you to pray that Faith and put it into action.  By our obedience to the Lord we give Him the space to shine through our actions and touch the lives of those around us.  By our obedience we bring the Lord out of the wilderness and make Him present to those who do not know or have forgotten Him.  By our obedience we attain eternal life not only for ourselves but for those whose lives we touch.  Do not make Christ into a leper.  By your obedience make Him present instead.

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