Saturday, February 14, 2009

February 15: Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

February 15: Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B
Readings: Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46; 1 Cor. 10:31-11:1; Mark 1:40-45

This Sunday we celebrate the mystery of Christ a friend of outcasts, who touches the untouchable out of compassion and God’s loving care. The first reading from the Book of Leviticus deals with the way lepers were treated before the Mosaic Law. Leprosy was a social stigma and the sick person had to live outside the confines of the city, town or village. It was even considered to be a consequence of sin. Because of this spiritual dimension it was the priest in the community who decided whether one had leprosy or not. If confirmed to have the disease, the person had to be excluded until the priest also confirmed the person to be cured. Nineteen centuries after the time of Jesus, far away from the Holy Land, the novelist Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) was horrified on finding a leper colony on the Hawaiian Island of Molokai. Just as we hear from the first reading, before there was any cure for leprosy, lepers on this island were simply banished to remote places. The horror of Molokai for Stevenson was a nightmare and a pitiful place to visit, a hell to dwell in. Stevenson probably would have given in to despair, if he had not seen what Fr. Damien, the Belgian priest was doing. The life and work of Fr. Damien inspired Stevenson so much that he wrote a lengthy letter to the Rev. Dr Hyde of Honolulu defending him against accusations perhaps provoked by jealousy and predicting his canonization. That prediction has proved to be true. In 1995 Pope John Paul II beatified Fr. Damien, who is now to be canonized by Pope Benedict XVI later in 2009. Blessed Damien's message of touching the untouchable and doing the impossible like Jesus continues to inspire so many today on the eve of his canonization.

There is an obvious link between the first reading and the Gospel passage where a leper comes to Jesus. Instead of aversion, Jesus is moved with pity and sets an example by refusing to be drawn into a Law that set barriers between people in his society. According to the Mosaic Law in the first reading, all lepers were outcasts and had to live apart from other people. No one was allowed to touch such persons for fear of contamination and of breaking the Law. We read that Jesus, on seeing a leper one day, felt sorry for him, stretched out his hand, touched him and cured him. In touching the leper, Jesus preferred to become an outcast for the sake of saving outcasts. He touches the untouchable and does the impossible. In this case, he cured the leper. We find many examples in which Jesus identifies himself with sinners and those rejected by society in order to save them from their condition. The example of Jesus in the Gospel is relevant for us today. It gives us a challenge to be prepared to take risks in the course of serving and helping those in the margins of society and considered outcasts. We must be prepared to speak on their behalf. But like Christ, we may find ourselves unable to walk freely in our own towns and cities because of speaking in defense of the defenseless. What message do we take home? 1) The central message of this Sunday is that Jesus out of compassion can touch us and heal and make us clean spiritually. 2) But like the leper in the Gospel we must go forward and ask Jesus to heal us. We must never be ashamed or in self-denial of our need for healing. 3) We must not doubt the need to go to confess to a priest, Jesus shows us that there is a need, because he sent the leper to a priest.

©2009 John M. Mbinda

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