Gospel reflection for Feb. 11, 2024, Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
As the Season of Lent is at hand, the opportunity for deeper reflection on our lives and our relationship with the Lord and our fellow human community takes on a new urgency.
As we look at our lives honestly and clearly, we can see the many ways in which we are isolated from one another and alienated from God. We live in a world which is increasingly self-centered, a worldview that reflects a deeper sense of meaninglessness and hopelessness.
Of course, most of this sense of alienation is self-inflicted. While there are examples in our day of people who are shunned -- or shall we say “canceled” -- for any reason, most of us choose to isolate ourselves from others. Often, we do so out of a false sense of self-righteousness. If I believe that my political opinions, social interactions, lifestyle, appearance or quality of wokeness is superior to yours, then I am perfectly capable of and comfortable with putting you on my do not contact list. This is, it would seem, the most un-Christian form of behavior toward another person.
Shunning individuals for various reasons is not a modern phenomenon, and was well-known in the ancient world. The Mosaic Law includes various mandates of shunning for a number of reasons, including most notably, that of suffering from a disease then called leprosy.
Whatever that disease was relative to modern diseases, we are uncertain, but the Israelites and many other cultures were very much afraid of it. Anyone who was diagnosed with leprosy -- correctly or falsely -- was immediately separated from the community. This sense of alienating lepers persisted well into modern times. The victims of no other disease have experienced the same level of persistent and endemic persecution as have lepers.
Interestingly enough, lepers figure prominently in the ministry of Jesus, and we have several accounts of his interactions with them.This weekend offers one of those encounters.
We have much to learn from a leper who dared to approach Jesus and pose a poignant challenge: “If you will, you can make me clean.”
This man took a bold step in approaching Jesus and at the same time demonstrated confidence that Jesus could cure his leprosy. The crowd around Jesus must have been frightened by his appearance -- both literally and figuratively. Breaking all protocol, and technically violating the proscriptions of the law, the leper walks up to Jesus.
The reaction of Jesus is clear and certain: “I do will it, be made clean.”
Jesus then did something else that was unthinkable, he touched the leper. A man deprived of genuine human contact ever since his diagnosis, feels the loving, compassionate and healing touch of Jesus. In itself this was a remarkable moment. Immediately his leprosy was gone, he was made whole. “Go,” he says, “show yourself to the priest.” It was only the priest who could certify leprosy. His initial judgment of leprosy was given by a priest and now he needed a priest to certify that he was made clean.
Jesus did not need to touch this man, and many times Jesus performs miracles, even without seeing the person. We also know that the healing word of Jesus is itself sufficient. However, in touching this leper Jesus transfers the man’s uncleanness onto himself, yet without himself becoming unclean. The man is healed and goes his way.
This is a deeply symbolic gesture, one that anticipates the Death of Jesus on the Cross. Jesus has taken the sin of the world onto himself without becoming sinful, though he became sin for us, so that we might be made clean.
We celebrate this reality at every Mass and throughout our sacramental economy. In a very special way, the Sacrament of Confession does the same for us. It is an opportunity that we should avail ourselves of during this Lenten Season.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.