Sunday, February 12, 2012

Jesus and the Leper

                           6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Leprosy was one of the most dreaded diseases of the ancient world. In the Gospels we have a clear picture of the roads of Palestine, particularly those near the entrance of the towns, haunted by lepers, who would hold out their dreadful fingerless hands to awaken the pity of those who passed by, but who would only succeed in terrifying them by the horrible "lion's mask" that the disease sets upon the sufferer's face.

There was no cure for leprosy. The only remedy was to cast the leper out from society. The leper was to go bareheaded, wearing special clothes; he was to live far away from towns and villages, and whenever he came near a healthy person he was to call out in a loud voice, "unclean, unclean." It is no wonder that the disease was considered a spiritual as well as a physical malady.

Today’s first reading contains instructions from the Book of Leviticus on how to deal with lepers. The gospel follows up with the account of the cure of the leper from the first chapter of St. Mark’s. Incredibly, this leper actually approaches Jesus and kneels down before him and begs, “If you wish, you can make me clean.”

Hearing this gospel, it is natural for us to wonder about who are today’s lepers. Who are today’s outcasts? Any number of different types of people will come to mind but maybe we should consider the question from another point of view. No sane person today would think that a dreaded disease like leprosy was the result of someone’s sins. However, there can be a kind of spiritual leprosy.

Whenever we read the gospels, we should always try to put ourselves in the picture. It’s a kind of unofficial sign of the divine inspiration of the gospels that we can usually see that they apply to us and not only to people who lived 2000 years ago. Today, instead of wondering who are the lepers in our society, it might be better to consider that we ourselves are lepers.

While our bodies show no sign of the dreaded disease, our souls could be disfigured. Just because our society no longer believes in the seven deadly sins, it does not mean that they have gone away or that their ugly sores do not disfigure our souls. Pride, anger, lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, and envy have not disappeared from our world.

All we have to do is read the newspapers or watch TV to realize that these things are still among us at every level. Lust is so common that there is no point in even discussing it. Anyone watching Judge Judy knows that anger is all around us. Even children are not immune. When children want everything their friends have, that is envy and it disfigures their souls more than the worst case of acne. Sloth is spiritual laziness and it attracts us even at a young age. It leads all of us to avoid difficult tasks and shirk difficult assignments.

Despite what some say, you don’t have to be rich to be greedy. Sure, the rich and famous build huge mega-mansions for themselves, but just watch ordinary people searching for homes on the Home network if you want to see greed. On one recent episode, a woman wouldn’t even consider a home unless it had granite countertops. Maybe, her attitude also showed the beginnings of pride. She had led a good life and had reached a modest level of success and now felt that she deserved her reward.

Pride is the worst of the sins since it can infect us even after we have managed to avoid or overcome the others. Seniors should be especially concerned since they are often prone to think they know it all.

The whole point of today’s gospel is that we all need to be made clean, and fortunately Jesus has shown us the way. “I do will it. Be made clean.” Interestingly enough, after he had cured the leper, he told him to present himself to the priest and follow the rules prescribed in the Law of Moses. Jesus was telling him that he was now free to re-enter the community. He was no longer a spiritual outcast.           

Today we live in the wealthiest society on the face of the earth. Even our poor have a standard of living that would be the envy of others living in other parts of the world. And yet there are disturbing signs. Who can deny that there is so much unhappiness in our country today? Millions of people are taking anti depressant medication. Just the other day the newspaper carried a story about the increasing use of anti-depressant drugs among teenagers.

Could it be that our unhappiness is related to the constant attacks on religion and morality today that are aimed at destroying the spiritual immune system that once protected us from sin and its consequences. Why do so many people feel like spiritual lepers, unloved and unwanted? Is it because self-indulgence has replaced self-sacrifice?

In today's second reading, St. Paul advises us to practice the virtues that are the opposite of the seven deadly sins. Humility, for example, is the great antidote to pride. No matter what we do we should do everything not for ourselves but for the benefit of others.

The words that Jesus spoke to the leper were also spoken to us:

“I do will it. Be made clean.”

 Reading 1. Leviticus 13: 1-2, 44-46
Reading II. 1 Corinthians 10: 31—11: 1
Gospel. Mark 1: 40-45 (Be made clean)






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