FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46 | Psalm 32:1-2, 5, 11 | 1 Corinthians 10:31—11:1 | Mark 1:40-45
Human made boundaries are often enslaving and oppressive. One way or another, all of us, in some way, shape or form, are alienated. On this Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, let us reflect on how Jesus breaks down all kinds of barriers to reconcile us to the Father and reunite us to the Church.
A hospital visitor at Culion Sanitarium and General Hospital saw Arvie, a nurse tending to the sores of a leprosy patient and said, "I’d never do that for a million pesos!" Arvie answered, "Neither would I. But I do it for Jesus for nothing".
Leviticus, one of the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures, deals mostly with laws contributing to proper order in the camp. Leprosy was the most dreaded disease in the ancient world. It is depicted as punishment for disobedience of God’s commands (see Numbers 12:12-15; 2 Kings 5:27; 15:5). Because people did not know about the process of contagion at the time, the community banished persons with any skin disease as long as the disease lasted. One of the most horrible things about leprosy was that it cut a person off from his friends and loved ones. He was contagious, so he had to live outside the camp, either alone, or with other lepers. He couldn’t hold his children on his lap, embrace his wife, or enjoy tender moments with his family around the dinner table. In fact, the Law prescribed that he must wear torn clothing, uncover his head, cover his lips, and shout "Unclean! Unclean!" whenever he approached people. In the following chapter, there is a description of ways to reintegrate those that were healed back into society and communal relationships.
Dr. Noel Doble, professor of Molecular Biology, met his new class on the first day of school. He stood before the students and gave a nice introduction to the class and about himself. Upon completion of his monologue, he looked around the room and asked his students, "If any of you think you are stupid, stand up." As he looked around he saw that none of his students stood up. He proceeded to ask the same question again, "If anyone thinks he or she is stupid, please stand up." The professor looked around and to his surprise one student in the back of the room stood up. Dr. Doble asked, "So, you think you are stupid?" The first-year student replied, "No sir, I just didn’t want you to feel alone".
In his First Letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul is addressing a pastoral and social problem for the Christians of Corinth. The meat used in pagan sacrifices was later sold and might be served at a table where Christians were present. They disagreed on whether a Christian could rightly consume such meat. Paul lays down a principle for them. Whatever they do, they must act for the glory of God and avoid giving offense. He is less concerned with maintaining a high standard of personal ritual purity that he is humbly doing whatever is necessary to assist others on their way to salvation. He makes the point that our behavior toward others is more important than what we eat or drink. We must therefore tear down the walls built on biased perceptions, and to preserve the fellowship of the community by avoiding offending one another at all costs.
Once I visited a woman in the hospital. The sign on the door read: "Please see nurse before entering." When I went to the nurse’s station, the nurse explained that they didn’t know what the woman was suffering from but they believed she was contagious. I was instructed to wash my hands, put on a cloth gown, latex gloves, and a cloth cap. And only then could I go into the patient’s room. When I got to the woman’s bedside, she smiled weakly and told me how good it was to see me. We talked for a long while and when the time came for me to leave, I asked if there was anything he could do for her. She answered: "I just wish somebody would hold my hand without one of those gloves on." She longed for the touch of a human hand. A touch unhindered by the shield of a latex glove. A human touch that said she was cared for and loved.
Alienation is not what Jesus wants for us, or for any other human beings. In our Gospel, Jesus cleanses the man of leprosy by the touch of his hand. Then he wants the cleansing recognized so the man can rejoin his local community. Wait a minute...Jesus reached out and touched a man with leprosy? The law in Leviticus made it very clear that lepers were to remain away from people and the children of Israel were not to have anything to do with lepers. Anyone who touched something or someone unclean was considered automatically unclean themselves for at least 7 days. But none of these mattered to Jesus. He reached out his hand and said to the man, "I do will it. Be made clean." And right in that moment the man is healed from his illness. In touching the man Jesus was willing to take his uncleanness and at the same time to make the man clean. In that touch Jesus offered acceptance where previously there was only rejection. In fact, this leper probably hadn’t experienced human touch in years! He offered love and showed the man that he had value. By touching the untouchable, legally, Jesus became unclean Himself. But in the process, he gave the leper healing. Oh, what a picture of what took place on the cross! But I love this about Jesus. He didn’t remain at a distance with a turned up nose. Instead, He deliberately stretched out His hand and touched us. He showed us his mercy and freed us from whatever makes us unclean in order to reconcile us to the Father and reunite us to the Church. We are all lepers, disfigured by sin. It doesn't matter who you were or what you did— Jesus' love has the power to cleanse you — so long as you want a fresh new start. Despite the reality that all of us have spots, Jesus is willing to touch us, make us clean, and restore us to communion.
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum