Homily for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2015
Homily for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2015
I am sure it seems odd to us today and quite cruel to treat someone with a severe disability by kicking them out of the community and isolating them outside the town, leaving them to fend for themselves. We are told that what the Bible calls leprosy really isn’t the leprosy that we call Hansen’s Disease today, although some of it may have been, but included any kind of infectious skin diseases including rashes and skin discolorations caused by things like mildew.
But this was a time before medicine, a time when infection meant there could be spreading of disease and separation was, in effect, the way to save the whole community. So when we read the Law regarding lepers in Leviticus we must understand that context. It was not meant to be cruel but to be a protection for the uninfected people.
And they weren’t always cast out forever. Someone with Hansen’s Disease who was wasting away would be, but many other infections simply cleared up and there was a way for dealing with that and bring a person back into the community.
The other problem with the early Jewish understanding was that there was a strong relationship between the external and the internal in the mind of the Hebrew. Leprosy was a sign of sin, a sign of uncleanliness both of which separated the person from the Jewish community.
When we look at the Gospel reading, the first amazing thing I want you to note is that Jesus was approached by a leper. This was forbidden since they were to stay apart and be alone. Jesus doesn’t run away from the man but is moved with pity for him. This is even more true because the man puts complete faith in the ability of Jesus. One wonders how he even heard of Jesus, but as anyone with a bad disease like cancer can tell you, the sick person is often looking for ways to get better, for the newest findings on the disease or for other doctors who claim to be able to heal it. The leper probably had his ear opened to find out about one of the healers who were quite common at the time.
The leper’s faith is such that he asks for his cure in a very unique way. He doesn’t just say “cure me, please!” but he puts it in the way that gives Jesus choice in the matter. “If you choose, you can make me clean.”
Jesus responds in a like fashion: “I do choose.”
As the man is immediately made clean, we learn what a person has to do to be admitted back into the community. He or she has to go to a priest to be checked out, and make an offering to God for the cleansing, usually a sacrificial animal.
When Jesus asks him not to tell anyone about it, I am not sure he knows he is not being realistic in that people were going to want to know how this man with torn clothes and disheveled hair was made clean, if only so that they, too, could take advantage of such a person. What Jesus didn’t want, at this point, was his 15 minutes of fame as a healer, because that wasn’t what he was really about. Healing was something he could do, and it strengthened people’s faith in him, but what he really wanted to do was preach the Good News of the kingdom of heaven, eventually knowing that he would die to bring that about. Too much success too early would not allow the message to be spread.
Unfortunately for Jesus, however, the man told everyone, so that Jesus couldn’t preach in the towns any more because of the number of people wanting cures, and he was confined to preaching in the countryside where people still came to be cured, but where he could also spread them out and work in his preaching.
In most of the cures of Jesus, although not in this one of the leper, Jesus also forgave sins. Perhaps with the leper he wanted to show that there was not a relationship between disease and sinning, and that one was not a sign of the other. In many of his healings though, he tried to cure both the outer and inner person, and the psalm today expresses that with the beautiful words: “‘I acknowledged my sin to you…, and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” This same healing is still available to us today, one of the most hopeful and remarkable things about our Christian heritage. Each Sunday at the beginning of Mass, if we are truly sorry, we confess our sins and we are given absolution for them. And in our Prayer of the Faithful we say to God, “If you choose to you can cure…” And often he chooses to.
Let me close then today with St. Paul’s words: whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” Let us try to make God part of our everyday life and actions, so that when we are in trouble or bad health we can come to God, like today’s leper, and God will know our faith and belief, and cure us if God so chooses.
Hopeful thoughts that come from the Good News we hear today!
Bishop Ron Stephens
Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
[You can purchase a complete Cycle A and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]