Sunday Sermon for February 14, 2021, the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Readings: Lev 13:1-2, 44-46; 1 Cor 10:31-11:1; Mk 1:40-45
Today’s Gospel reading is always cause for a chuckle. We hear about a leper who comes to Jesus to ask for healing. When our Lord heals the man, He tells him: “See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest.” The first reading tells us what happened to a person who contracts leprosy. They have to keep their heads bare, tear their clothes, men had to muffle their beards, and they had to cry out “Unclean, unclean.” Perhaps the most difficult part was that those with leprosy had to live apart from family and friends, completely outside the camp, town, or city.
So, we have a man who has had to follow these restrictions and, now that his leprosy is healed, he can go into town again, he does not have to yell out that he is unclean; he can live and worship with his family and friends. We can hardly imagine the joy and the relief this man felt. He had to go to the priest because only the priest could declare the man to be healed, but once he was delivered from the uncleanness, he was free.
This is the background which causes me to chuckle. Who of us would keep quiet? If we had been healed of cancer or some other medical condition, we would be so grateful. But if we were healed of something that is not only medical, but had social effects as well, the joy and gratitude would be overflowing. I think this is the disposition of the man who was healed. He was so happy he could not stay quiet.
Sometimes victim souls take on the ailments of the persons for whom they are praying. In healing this man, Jesus did not take on the leprosy, but we are told it was no longer possible for Him to enter a town openly, so He stayed in deserted places. Jesus had to live in a way that is similar to the way the lepers lived. One of the main differences was that people wanted to avoid the lepers, but they all wanted to find Jesus.
This also helps us to look at two other aspects of this mystery of leprosy; both of them are spiritual. The first is that Jesus had to stay away because everyone wanted to be healed by Him. I am sure it was horrible for a person to learn that he or she had contracted leprosy. Even today there are many diagnoses that are, in essence, a death sentence. That is, the person knows that having this disease probably means the result will be death. It is often very difficult to hear and accept this news. Perhaps there is anger and self-pity. But if the person can work through these feelings and come to peace, there is great opportunity to pray and prepare to be with the Lord.
In the second reading, St. Paul tells us that whatever we do, it should be done for the glory of God. If this includes, as St. Paul says, such mundane things as eating and drinking, how much more would it imply our choices of lifestyle, acceptance of bad news (or good news), the way we treat others, and so on. If we are given what we might consider a bad diagnosis, it helps us to get focused on what is truly important. If we have reason to think we will die soon, worldly matters are suddenly of little or no interest, but the spiritual matters take on greater importance. In this way, we can choose to accept our cross and carry it in a manner that glorifies God. Of course, we should not wait for a brush with death before we start living this way. St. Paul tells us that we should do everything, from this moment on, for the glory of God.
The second way to understand this mystery of the healing of the leper is to look at it from our own subjective perspective. We are not lepers, per se, but we are afflicted with a spiritual leprosy that is much worse than the physical ailment. Sin is a leprosy of the soul. Think of what Jesus did for us. St. Paul says He Who knew not sin became sin for us. He nailed our sins to the Cross. Just as our Lord united Himself to the sufferings of the leper whom He healed, so He has united Himself to our suffering by healing us.
This is not a matter for chuckling, nor is it a matter about which we should be silent. We have been given the freedom of the children of God and we are to live as children of light, freed from sin and death and alive for God in Jesus Christ!
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.