Sunday Sermon for February 11, 2018, the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Readings: Lev 13:1-2, 44-46; 1 Cor 10:31-11:1; Mk 1:40-45
In the first reading Moses instructs the people that anyone who is diagnosed with leprosy must tear his clothes, keep his head uncovered, muffle his beard, dwell apart from others, and cry out “unclean, unclean.” The purpose of this was to keep the disease from spreading to other people. However, another effect of this law was the isolation of the lepers from the rest of society.
This provides context for the healing of the leper in today’s Gospel reading. First of all, that Jesus would allow this man to come close to Him was unusual. Second, the fact that our Lord reached out and touched the man is even more astounding. We do not know how long this man was afflicted with leprosy, but we can assume it has been some time since he had been touched by another human being. Being healed of leprosy was a great blessing for this man, but one has to wonder if the way the healing took place provided an even greater healing. We know our Lord could have spoken and cured the man without touching him, so the mercy and compassion Jesus extended to this man is truly profound.
Thankfully, we have leprosy under control in our society, so no one has to deal with the horror of this disease. However, we still have many situations where people are treated as lepers. Some are rejected because they stand for the truth, others are isolated because they will not lower their standards regarding morality, some are rejected simply because they are Catholic. Even worse, we all know there are people in almost every parish who form a clique which excludes anyone they see as unworthy or unacceptable.
We should not be surprised to see Catholics treating other Catholics badly. While it is completely wrong it demonstrates the inherent weaknesses in our human nature. We all feel the injustice when we are the ones being rejected, but then we turn around and do the same to others, justifying ourselves for whatever reason. I think back to the conversion of Saul of Tarsus after which no one wanted anything to do with him. Even Ananias hesitated when our Lord told him to go and restore Saul’s sight. Finally, Barnabas reached out to him and accepted him, setting him on the path to be the greatest evangelist in history.
Because of St. Paul’s life prior to his conversion, one can understand why almost everyone in the early Church would have been reticent to reach out to him. In the second reading, however, St. Paul delivers a rather ominous challenge to us: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” In the Gospel today we are told that Jesus, after healing the leper, could not enter a town openly. In other words, He became as the leper had been (without the disease). Of course, we all know the rejection He endured; we all know how His life ended.
We can say similar things about what happened to St. Paul. He was abandoned by everyone at one point, he was kicked out of towns, beaten with rods, stoned, and flogged; he ended his life as a martyr. Now he is calling each of us to imitate him as he imitated the Lord. In order to do this he gives us two points of advice: first, do everything for the glory of God. Everything means everything! Second, do everything for the salvation of others.
When we look throughout history at those who put St. Paul’s advice into practice, we find a remarkable pattern: these individuals are often rejected and ostracized. Even some of the Saints who founded Religious Orders were eventually rejected by the very community they founded. Some of the Saints, because of their holiness, were isolated in their monasteries or communities. Even in families some people are rejected for being “too religious” or “too extreme.” The Saints do not fit in with anyone who does not make Jesus the center of their lives.
If you and I strive to do everything for the glory of God and the good of our neighbors, we too, will be rejected. Anyone who has taken up the prayer life understands this. Perhaps this is the reason most people do not want to get too close to our Blessed Lord: they know prayer will conform them to Christ, and they know what follows from that.
No one wants to be a social leper, but our society has done to Jesus what His own did: we have rejected Him and pushed Him out of our public life. So, do you really want to fit in with those who do not want Jesus or do you want to fit in with Jesus? Being ostracized is painful, but you will be in good company.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.