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6th Sunday in Ordinary Time Homily

Fr. Michael MachacekNativity of Our LordFebruary 11, 2024
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today's readings are Leviticus 13; Psalm 32; I Cor. 10:31- 11:1; Mark 1: 40-45

“Unclean, unclean!”  The life of a leper in Jesus’ day was not a happy one.  And to be classified as a leper didn’t necessarily mean that you had what is called Hansen’s disease, the disease that often results in facial and bodily disfigurement.  For any skin condition that resulted in scaly, irritated skin, such as psoriasis, would also be considered as leprosy.  And woe to anyone in such a state.  As we heard in our first reading (Leviticus 13: 1-2, 45-46), that person would have to wear torn clothing, purposely look disheveled, and call out “unclean, unclean” if any person came near to them.  They were not allowed to live anywhere near a home or settlement, nor could they be anywhere near their families or community.  Now, if it seemed that a person with leprosy had been cured, the person would go to a Jewish priest, who would thoroughly examine them.  It was only after the priest declared the person to be clean that he or she could be reunited with their family and community.

With that background, let’s consider the encounter between Jesus and the “leper”.   More than a few rules are broken in this story. First, though the Law commands a leper to keep his distance from anyone else, this man approaches Jesus. That was forbidden. But he doesn’t care – for he has hope and confidence in Jesus.  He says, “If you wish, You can make me clean.” He knows Jesus can heal him.  And notice that he asks to be cleansed – which indicates that being able to rejoin his community and family is just as important as being healed of his disease. 

Jesus’ response, St. Mark tells us, springs from compassion. Rather than yelling at the man to get away from Him, Jesus lets the man come to him.  Then He stretches out His hand, touches the man, and says, “I do will it. Be made clean.” But as He touches him, Jesus breaks another law - a Jewish religious law, for touching anyone with leprosy would make one ritually unclean. But Jesus doesn’t care.   He touches the man.  And His touch heals.  In fact, throughout St. Mark’s gospel, we see how Jesus would physically touch those without hope: the outcasts, the sick, the lepers, the paralyzed, the poor, the sinners.  Even though the culture of that time looked down on such people, Jesus was not deterred.  The barriers set up against such people were of little concern for Jesus; for He knew that an essential part of His ministry is to bring people back home: first, their earthly home, the communities and families that they belonged to, and secondly, when that time came, their heavenly home. 

This a fascinating story.  But what does it have to tell those of us who do not suffer from leprosy?  First, the story asks us to consider what we share with the man with leprosy.  Since his condition was obvious, society forced him to hide from sight.  We, on the other hand, are quite adept at hiding our weaknesses and the unsightly, sinful aspects of our life.  Even worse is that we try to hide those things from ourselves, desperately trying to believe in the image we project rather than the truth of who we are.  The man Jesus healed would remind us that Jesus will only touch and heal what we bring before him; if we don’t bring our complete and true self, we will never truly encounter Him. And remember this – in the gospels we never read of Jesus reaching out and touching someone who was self-sufficient, self-reliant.  He only reached out and touched those who knew they needed Him. A question, then.  If you are really, really honest with yourself, do you need Jesus?  I dare say everyone of us does.  

Now, coming before God with a willingness to be nothing other than our true selves, with all our fears and weaknesses and sinfulness, and to bring this to God is a real act of faith – honesty – and courage. It’s not always easy to do so – things like self pride or our sense of self-reliance often get in the way.  But we must.  How?  One way is prayer.  Another way is to seek outside help, like the addict who joins a 12-step group.  Another way is by receiving either of the 2 sacraments of healing of the church – confession and anointing of the sick. What is crucial is the courage and honesty to say, “Lord, I need your help.  I need you to do to me what needs to be done”.    

Take your cue from the prayer we all say just before we receive Holy Communion: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed”.  And when we say that prayer with conviction, Jesus smiles on us and says, “Amen”.