Leprosy was a dangerous disease that has been associated with social taboo in the past history, especially in Israel and today’s first reading is a good witness to it. Once the priest declared that a person was leprous, the person was to be considered unclean and had to live apart from the society. At the beginning, it was just for a practical reason that the lepers were asked to live apart from the society, because others in the society had to to protected. But at the same time, the Israelites associated this kind of sicknesses with spiritual uncleanliness. They believed that it was God’s punishment and therefor those who had this kind of sicknesses were not accepted in the nation of a ‘holy priesthood.’
These few Sundays we read about the miracles of Jesus reported by St. Mark. Today’s Gospel tells us a story of Jesus healing a man with leprosy and asking him to go show him to the Priest to get a certificate for his recovery. Jesus was not a medical doctor, nor a certified official to give recommendation in the society of his time, but many followed him, mostly, because of his miraculous power and his preaching. What Jesus did was not just a physical healing, but a total liberation of the person. By healing the bodily sickness, Jesus recovered the leper’s lost dignity.
Though it is not right to associate bodily sickness to one’s holiness, today’s reading can lead us to further reflection. The human body is the expression of one’s person. God created first man and the woman and since then he never copied his creation. Every man and woman is a unique expression of God’s holiness. Holiness of a person is just maintaining this uniqueness; his or her unique relationship to God. Any misuse of the body can make the person unclean, but not vise versa. But in the history of the church the holiness of some people has been expressed in their bodies. For example some saints’ bodies did not decay, because they led a holy life.
In today’s gospel the leper experiences double healing. One is his bodily healing and then a spiritual healing, which was necessary for him to be once again considered as a part of the ‘holy priesthood.’ This was exactly Jesus’ mission; to liberate mankind from the bondage of sin and win back the lost dignity. Jesus makes use of this chance to give a very important message to the whole of mankind. His prompt act of healing the leper was not healing of just one person, but the whole mankind. The physical healing of one person was a cleansing of the thoughts of the whole of Israelites, God’s people; the ‘holy priesthood.’
We have to note that in today’s Gospel, the man with leprosy took the initiative. He approached Jesus and asked him for healing. In doing so, the leper violated the religious and social customs of the day, but at the same time created an arena for Jesus’ mission. His request to Jesus could be interpreted as an act of blasphemy, but for Jesus it was a prompt act of faith on the part of the leper and a means to reveal the glory of God. Jesus not only healed him, but he also touched him, which also violated established social norms. This is an important sign of the depth of Jesus’ compassion for the man and an expression of God’s fatherly love. It recovered the leper’s bodily union with God.
When we walk on our streets today, we find a lot of people who can represent the leper for us. They might not have the same sickness, but they remind us of the leper who came to Jesus and said ‘if you want to you can heal me.’ They might be poor, sick, homeless, or ugly in their appearance. All these people whom we meet on the streets in our time might not take the initiative like the leper who came and asked Jesus to heal him. There can be different reasons why they do not take the initiative. It can be because they are tired of asking many who did not answer at all. We are not Jesus, but we have received the power to heal and to perform miracles. At the same time, we can at least give them a bit of comfort by our loving words, give them their material needs, or even pray for them even if we do not trust in our authority to be the instruments of God’s miraculous power. Like the leper paved a path for Jesus’ mission, these people whom we meet on the streets pave a tiny bit of path for us to take part in the mission of Jesus, to be a means of God’s love for them.
We need to have confidence like the leper, that God is powerful enough to heal them and that God loves each and every person whom we might ignore. A few words of love might be enough in certain cases, sometimes material help is needed or a bit of your time when you come home to sit and pray for them. Jesus reminds you and me once again that they are in such a situation, not because of their sin, nor because of their ancestors sins, “but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3) Amen.
To download a PDF version of this homily, click here: 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B
Father Alren Soosaipillai, OMI is a priest of the congregation of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) and he currently serves as the Parish priest (pastor) at Skt. Knud Lavard Church in Kongens Lyngby in Denmark. He has attended TOB I.