Homily for VI (6) Sunday Year B. 14-02-2021 by Fr. Lubem Robert Waya, osj.
First Reading: Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46
Psalm: Psalm 31 (32) 1-2, 5, 11
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 10:31-11: 1
Gospel: Mark 1:40-45
The book of Leviticus gives us an insight into the social milieu of lepers in ancient Israel. Once a person’s skin manifests sores, he or she is taken to the priest who as a spiritual figure acting as a mediator not only for spiritual health but also for physical health to ensure wholistic salvation for his people, ascertains the condition. He does this by assessing the nature of the sickness and issuing a declaration stating whether or not the patient is sick from leprosy. Any person declared a leper by the priest, remains ritually unclean and must live as a social outcast apart from the rest members of the community. This ostracization placed the lepers in separate areas called colonies, where they were left for dead, and not permitted to remix with the rest of the society, as a measure thought necessary to avoid any spread of the sickness since leprosy was thought to be not only highly contagious but also incurable. As a result of this, leprosy was dreaded and treated with a form of superstition not just in Israel but all over the world.
Even at the time of Jesus, lepers were still seen and treated basically no better but as social outcasts. They were maltreated like criminals, a situation which remained largely unchanged until recently about fifty years ago with the discovery of sulfides when leprosy became curable. So, we see in the leper whom Christ cured today, a man of faith but also of undaunting courage. He risked being killed for breaking the social barriers and mixing up with ‘clean people,’ but he took this risk to approach Jesus for healing because he had faith in Him. He knelt down before Christ, recognizing His divine majesty, and begged to be healed. Christ seen his faith and courage, cured him.
To draw closer to Christ always requires faith but also courage especially in our secularist world of today in which serious Christians are bullied and branded derogatory names such as conservative, holier than thou, eccentric, non-progressive, etc. Needless to say, that like the leper, there are always circumstances that try to militate against us when we are on our journey towards Christ. Sometimes it is those closest to us such as friends and family who pose a stumbling block. At times we get discouraged ourselves by our very circumstances and our sins. Sin is actually the real leprosy that plagues us not just in body but also in soul, ostracizing us from the love of God. The good news however is that even in such moments, Christ’s love still sees us and He seeks after us to heal us and set us free if only we come to Him like this leper. Do you think your sins are too grievous or numerous? Go to Christ on your knees in the sacrament of reconciliation like the leper did and He will make you whole again. Christ today has invited us to look beyond those challenging episodes and our sinful ways, and not allow them to define us. Before Him there are no limitations because we are made for God in whom we find abundant life, greatness, true happiness and freedom. Let us therefore not be afraid of approaching Him, for the Lord says “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool (Isaiah 1:18).” Hence, the Lord will not cast us away but will instead make us whole and restore us to friendship with Him again.
In reaching out to the leper today, Christ challenges us also to reach out to not just the physically disabled but also the ‘socially disabled’ who are cut off from the society and our circles for various reasons. These are the social outcasts of today. Are the outcasts only people with sicknesses such as AIDS, tuberculosis or covid-19? Are they the poor and the immigrants from the third world? Are they those we call foreigners because we regard them as strangers and inferior simply because they are not of our own race, nationality, religion or tribe? Are they the black sheep of the family who have dragged the name of the family in the mud with their immoral lifestyle? Are they the prostitutes, the homosexuals, armed robbers, drug addicts or the cultists? Yes, and much more. Some of these people are actually dangerous to get close to. But are we willing to at least try and reach out to them or are we afraid of what people may think and say about us and that we might also become unclean? Taking such a bold step to reach out to some of these society’s outcasts with the gospel is good, but it can be a risky adventure that could put us in ‘moral danger’ and even actually in harm’s way. Christianity comes with a cross. Christ risked becoming ritually unclean for touching a leper. So, like St. Paul, we can try to be “all things to all in order to save some (1 Corinthians 9:22),” though we could in the end be accused of siding with the unclean and actually becoming one with them.
Therefore, we must set limits, but our limits must be as defined by Christ Himself. He loved all genuinely and endlessly and He mingled with sinners too but without Himself sinning. He always attacked evil and criticized what was sinful in a person without condemning the person so that He might save the sinner. So, though He forgave sinners, he abhorred their sins and never encouraged them to go on sinning. That is why to the sinner He would say, “go and sin no more (John 8:11).” This is clearly a warning not to return to the sinful lifestyle again. Today too, He does not first become a leper before curing the leper. The leper also remained outside the community and could only rejoin the community after being cleansed. This means that the culture which emphasizes acceptance of every behaviour and everything in the name of tolerance as Christ’s model is not only wrong but misleading. As long as there is no change of lifestyle on the part of the sinner, he or she has nothing in common with Christ. However, whoever is willing to change from their sinful path and turn to Christ for new life is accepted and cleansed by Him like the leper and he rejoins the community of ‘the clean’ of God. Are you still an outcast from God’s community or have you rejoined His community? Christ is seeking after us all, let us approach Him with faith like the leper today and ask Him to heal us of our ailments both physical and spiritual, and give us the courage to reach out to the social outcasts of our society with the message of the gospel and touch them with its healing power. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.