6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
14th February 2021
Year B – Psalter week 2
The leprosy left the man at once, and he was cured.
The situation of the leper who approaches Jesus in today’s gospel is described in our first reading, which is the beginning and the end of a section in Leviticus dealing with leprosy. As one scholar explains: “This disease was not precisely what modern medicine classifies as Hansen’s disease but included many other skin diseases that were temporary in character. Such diseases were serious not merely because of their contagious character, assumed or real, but because they were thought to make the patient spiritually unclean and therefore unfit to participate in the community’s worship. Rules were set up for quarantine. The patient had to report to the priest, who diagnosed the malady, not as a physician, but as the minister of the Torah, and decided on the length of the quarantine, which involved a second visit to the priest – the one referred to in today’s gospel.”
While one suffered from such skin diseases, one was an outcast from society and the religious community and was expected to stay well away from other people and make it clear that one was suffering from such a disease, as by touching others, one would make them ritually unclean. As it says in Leviticus: “A man infected with leprosy must wear his clothing torn and his hair disordered; he must shield his upper lip and cry, “Unclean, unclean.” As long as the disease lasts he must be unclean; and therefore he must live apart: he must live outside the camp.” Our current situation of having to wear face coverings, and not having easy access to hair dressers, gives only a slight insight into what lepers had to undergo in biblical times!
All the more shocking, then, for those who witnessed it, was this occasion of a leper even approaching Jesus. This is testament to the man’s faith in Jesus, and he exclaims, “If you want to you can cure me.” The leper’s doubt seems to be in whether Jesus wants to heal him, and he pleads on his knees before him. We have some insight into the compassion of Jesus in this account, as he replies, “Of course I want to!” Just as shocking to the bystanders I am sure, is the fact that “Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him.” Rather than the leprosy making Jesus unclean, however, the Lord’s holiness was too much for the leprosy. As I’ve said in previous homilies, the Lord’s holiness would also be too much for the coronavirus, or indeed, any other physical or spiritual affliction.
Maybe surprising to us is Jesus’ command for the man to “say nothing to anyone, but go and show yourself to the priest, and make the offering for your healing prescribed by Moses as evidence of your recovery”. Surely, if you or I were healed by God from such a disease, we would want to go and tell everyone! Here we have what is known in St. Mark’s gospel as the “messianic secret”. The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible points out that “Jesus frequently enjoins silence on demons and men to conceal his identity as the Messiah. Several considerations account for this strategy. (1) Jesus wanted to avoid a sensationalist reputation of being no more than a wonder-worker. Publicising his deed by word of mouth comes with the danger that rumours will begin to disconnect his miracles from his saving message. (2) He wanted to sidestep popular expectations that the messiah would be a political and military leader. (3) He did not wish to ignite the wrath of his enemies before the appointed time of his Passion.”
The man, however, “went away, but then started talking about it freely and telling the story everywhere.” What was the result? Jesus ends up in a situation similar to a leper’s: “Jesus could no longer go openly into any town, but had to stay outside in places where nobody lived”. The effect of this healing upon Jesus, it seems, points to the reality of the cross in which Jesus takes our sins upon himself so that we can be forgiven.
The Catechism makes the point that the healings the Lord performed in his earthly ministry continue now through his body, the Church, and most especially in the Sacraments when we celebrate them with faith: “Often Jesus asks the sick to believe. He makes use of signs to heal: spittle and the laying on of hands, mud and washing. The sick try to touch him, “for power came forth from him and healed them all.” And so in the sacraments Christ continues to “touch” us in order to heal us.” We are encouraged then, to ask for God’s healing touch when we come to the Sacraments.
At the same time, the Church reminds us that there can be times in which we are called to endure suffering and that by uniting it to the cross of Jesus it can help others: “Moved by so much suffering Christ not only allows himself to be touched by the sick, but he makes their miseries his own: “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.” But he did not heal all the sick. His healings were signs of the coming of the Kingdom of God. They announced a more radical healing: the victory over sin and death through his Passover. On the cross Christ took upon himself the whole weight of evil and took away the “sin of the world,” of which illness is only a consequence. By his passion and death on the cross Christ has given a new meaning to suffering: it can henceforth configure us to him and unite us with his redemptive Passion.”
 Reginald H. Fuller, Preaching the Lectionary – The Word of God for the Church Today, 1974, p. 300.
 Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, New Testament, Second Catholic Edition RSV (2010), p. 67.
 CCC 1504.
 CCC 1505.
The unclean man must live outside the camp
You are my refuge, O Lord; you fill me with the joy of salvation
1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1
Take me for your model, as I take Christ
The leprosy left the man at once, and he was cured
Sunday Message and Look
Download this weeks Sunday Message and Look (for our younger parishioners) by clicking on the images, for all the readings for this week, as well as the prayers during mass and the usual weekly thoughts and reflections.
Alleluia, alleluia! May the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ enlighten the eyes of our mind, so that we can see what hope his call holds for us. Alleluia!