6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today’s Bible readings deal with leprosy and uncleanliness, and transferred to another plane, the uncleanliness of heart through sin. In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus heals a leper who had asked him for help.
The leper of Jesus’ time was seen as a threat to the smooth functioning of a community. The public intrusion of an unclean person would literally disrupt the clean-cut, law-and-order look that a neighborhood, a village, or a city was trying to establish and maintain. That is why it was essential to keep the leper out of sight and out of mind. Hence the ancient rule as stated in the 1st reading.
When Jesus dared to stretch out his hand and actually touch the leper and really cure him, Jesus was saying clearly that we cannot push our problems to the margins, nor pretend that they do not exist. Jesus was showing us by his action that we have to deal honestly and openly with our difficulties; that we, too, have to stretch out our hands and begin to handle our problems. All of unclean aspects of our lives have to be gotten out into the open so they can be made clean, whole, complete.
Jesus’ cure of the leper has inspired countless people to repeat his loving act by ministering to the poorest of the poor, a service that, according to Mother Teresa, is Something Beautiful in he eyes of God. One of the most famous imitators of Jesus in the ministry to lepers was Saint (Father) Damien of Molokai. In his 11th year on the island, he contracted leprosy. He wanted no cure, if it meant leaving his beloved lepers. He seemed to rejoice that at least he was one of them.
Jesus does more than to heal the leper. For you and I are the leper in this passage. Leprosy is the symbol of sin; sin is a spiritual leprosy, and sinners are spiritually unclean. Sinners are unhappy outcasts. If we fail to identify ourselves with the leper and merely see this as another miracle that Jesus performed 2,000 years ago, then we miss the point of the Gospel reading directed at ourselves. But Jesus, the likeness of God, heals lepers. We need healing from our own helpless and miserable condition. Jesus came to show care. Sinners, all of us who fail, should turn to him for help. If the moral leprosy of sin were as plain on our faces as the deformities of a leper, how differently we would behave! And how quick we would be to seek forgiveness of our sins! We should imitate the leper in today’s Gospel.
The leper sized Jesus up as a man of God with the power to heal and the compassion to use it. He believed; he asked; he was cured. Like the leper we should say to Jesus, If you will to do so, you can cure me. And we know Jesus’ answer: Go off and present yourself to the priest. For in Confession the priest has the God-given power to say, I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
With Lent just a few days away -Wednesday of this week is Ash Wednesday- it is time for each one of us to deal with the leprosy of our lives. What is the problem that we are afraid to face? What is the part of our life that is out of order? What is it that we want to keep out of sight, like the leper of old? As Lent begins, it is time for us to make the bold move that the leper of today’s Gospel made. We can be absolutely certain that Jesus, moved with pity, will do for us what he did for the leper. And, stretching out his hand, he will touch us and say: I do will it. Be cured.