6th Sunday of Ordinary Time
A Homily - B Cycle - 2005-2006

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First Reading - Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46
Responsorial Psalm - Psalm 32:1-2, 5, 11
Second Reading - 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1
Gospel - Mark 1:40-45

Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.

A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, "If you wish, you can make me clean."  Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, "I do will it.  Be made clean."  The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.  Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once.

He said to him, "See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them."

The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter.  He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.  He remained out-side in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere.

In case you missed it, you might have noticed that there's something rather off-putting or even offensive in our first reading from the Book of Leviticus.  The reading contains prescripts on how to handle lepers and it isn't pretty.  Just think - if someone was found to have leprosy, they would be castigated and ostracized from the community by the priest, who would declare that person "Unclean!  Unclean!"  As if the embarrassment and stigma of having the disease was not enough, the leper had to endure the condemnation of a priest prior to leaving the camp.  Our modern sensibilities cringe at this kind of treatment.  Imagine if we adopted that approach at our parish's free clinic!  We wouldn't be open for very long.

And yet, the Jewish understanding regarding the relationship between sin and sickness is something worth noting.  In fact, without a sufficient consideration of our first reading from the Book of Leviticus, the power of our Gospel narrative may loose its effect.

For the Jews, the relationship between sin and sickness or suffering was quite simple:  if you were sick, it was because you had sinned and if you had sinned gravely, the illness would reflect the weight of the offense.  So, lepers were considered to be great sinners.  Remember the man born blind who was brought to Jesus for a cure?  The Jews ask Jesus, "Who sinned - this man or his parents that he was born blind?"  In reality, the man was born blind for reasons unrelated to his personal sins.

This rather simplistic understanding of the relationship between sin and sickness contains deficiencies.  The Jews had some things correct but other ideas were incomplete.  For example, the Jews understood that sickness exists in the world because sin exists.  And yet, we also know that one cannot necessarily equate one's personal illness with one's individual sins.

The Jews also thought that sin brought evil and illness into the world.  That's correct.  However, sometimes, people suffer illnesses through no fault of their own.  Rather than instigate sin, sometimes, people are victims of sin.

Lastly, the Jews understood that the priest should pay a part in this relationship between sin and sickness for every sickness contains within itself a spiritual dimension.  However, they did not understand that priests should be men of reconciliation and healing, not persons responsible for ostracizing outcasts and lepers.

So, while the Jewish mentality teaches us an important lesson insofar as developing a loathing for sin goes, it cannot answer one simple question, "If people who have fallen ill or suffer as a result of their personal sins, how do you account for the Lord Jesus, who never sinned and yet suffered the most?"  Right away, we see that the answers to the questions regarding the relationship between sin and suffering are much more complex.  In fact, we will never know the answer to the question in this life.  The answer to the mystery is found in the next life.

Yet, Jesus' action of touching the leper does give us indispensable insights into the ways God uses suffering and illness to manifest his glory and permeate his grace into the world.  First, we observe that Jesus TOUCHES the leper, Jesus risks physical contamination and he certainly violates the Jewish laws of maintaining ritual purity so that he can worship in the Temple.  This act of physical touching shows that compassion and charity always supercede the rigid prescripts of the Mosaic law.  The new law is the law of love and Jesus is that love incarnate.

Second, we observe that when Jesus touches the leper, the leprosy does not contaminate Jesus.  Instead, Jesus heals and purifies the leper.  Jesus touches the spiritual leper in the Sacrament of Penance.  He takes on our leprosy and by his suffering and death, he purifies and cleanses us of our iniquities.  Our sins don't defile Jesus.  Jesus is greater than our sins and it is He who purifies us.

Third, Jesus reveals his divinity in this healing and not only because he cleanses the leper.  If we follow the Jewish line of thought - that suffering was a result of sin, then healing was a sign of the forgiveness of sins.  The only person who can forgive sins is God.  And so, when Jesus sends the leper to the priest, Jesus is fully aware that when the priest sees a leper cleansed, the priest will want to know who cured the leper.  After all, only God could do that and if the leper is truly cleansed, God must be very close by.  Thus, if Jesus can heal, he can forgive sins.  If he can forgive sins, he must be God.

God does not willfully inflict suffering and sickness on us as punishment for our sins per se.  At times, he does permit us to suffer but this is in order to manifest his healing and forgiving love.  God is not thwarted by our sins or our suffering.  He is always at work, using everything to draw us closer to Him.  Our job is to learn how to trust God for it is only he who holds the answers to the mystery behind why we suffer.

In sum, the Jews had some of it right, but not everything.  And for us who are believers, even the revelation of Christ does not reveal everything that we need to know about the mystery of sin and suffering.  But we do know some things.  We know that our Lord reaches out to heal our leprosy, whatever form it may take and we know that will that we be made clean, purified by the blood and water that gushed forth as a fountain of mercy and love for us at Calvary.  May each of us place greater trust in the fact that Jesus can and will make us clean, if only we will it - for we know that this intention lies in the deep recesses of his most Sacred Heart!

Praised be Jesus Christ!  Now and forever! 

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