Father Jim extends his apologies for the late posting of this homily. He was traveling and his place of stay did not have a good internet connection.
•Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46 * 1 Corinthians 10:31 – 11:1 * Mark 1:40-45•
Scripture Readings: Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
“Ebola!” The word awakens fear and should. It is a deadly virus. The recent outbreak and spread of “Ebola” in Africa frightened many and probably made all of us wary. Countries were quarantined and it was not uncommon for travelers, even here in the U.S., to wear some sort of protective surgical mask.
This sudden and unexpected appearance of the “Ebola” virus illustrates what “leprosy” was in ancient Palestine. That primitive culture we call the Hebrews attached religious taboos to the disease. The term “leprosy,” described any condition as simple as eczema or acne, or as serious as Hansen’s disease. Even before the discovery of bacteria and germ theory the people of Palestine realized that some diseases were contagious. “Lepers” were considered unclean, contaminating and repulsive to others. When the disease seemed to be incurable, the community ostracized the victim just as was done recently to victims of “Ebola.” Lepers were separated from their family and their community. Their condition constituted a “living death.” Anyone who “touched” the leper was as unclean as one who had dealt with a corpse.
Mark tells us “a man with leprosy came to Jesus begging to be healed.” His audacity was considered outrageous. Jesus did not feel outrage. He was deeply touched, “ moved with pity,” “filled with compassion” or as one translation states, he “was angry.” His anger was not directed toward the leper but probably to the social response to the leper’s ailment.
“He reached out his hand and touched the man.” That was a serious “no – no!!
In that gesture of “reaching out his hand and touching the man” we see how fully human Jesus is. He was so open to the Spirit of God that he was totally free. He does not allow social restrictions or taboos to hinder his love for each person. He was free to love anyone and everyone he encountered and his love is unconditional. In the act of touching the leper he affirmed the message he was speaking. Loving others is all that matters. He shows us what we are capable of being and doing.
Perhaps more important and more significant in the gesture of “reaching out his hand and touching the man” is this. Jesus broke down the wall of separation and restored the man to community. In this very physical action he makes it clear what the central and consistent theme of his teaching means. In “the kingdom of God,” – that “new reality” emerging among us, everyone is included and loved. Justice, harmony and peace are for everyone. In the heart of God there is room for everyone.
I have never known anyone, other than Jesus of Nazareth, who is free to love so unconditionally all of the time. I know and feel privileged to be touched, and influenced by many who do love this way consistently. I think of Archbishop Hunthausen, Sister Dot Feehan BVM, my maternal grandmother and Francis of Rome. For me they are symbols of so many within and even outside of our household of faith who consistently love others unconditionally, even when those others have been or are less than loving in response.
I suggest those several examples mindful we can never fully know the inner life of another person. I presume even these four had their moments when they could not reach out and touch / love unconditionally. I certainly know that is true about myself. Because of my own immaturity, limitations and lack of spiritual freedom, I too often allow the words, actions or indifference of some folks to awaken negative feelings in me and I fail to reach out and love.
“A man with leprosy came to Jesus begging to be healed.” We can hear this text as a simple healing story. In this homily I am suggesting there is much more to the story than that. Jesus was so open to the Spirit of God that he was fully free and fully human. Thus in his response to the leper he shows us what we are capable of being and doing. I affirm you for your efforts to be open to the Spirit of God. I affirm your intention to love unconditionally. And I thank you for enabling “the kingdom of God” – “God’s new reality” to emerge in our world.