Sixth Sunday of the Year February 15, 2009

Leviticus 13:1-2, 45-46; 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1; Mark 1:40-45
During the time of Jesus Leprosy was considered a dreaded disease and people of the time thought it to be highly contagious. Hence the persons who had leprosy had to live in isolation outside the city away from their family and friends and could not come into contact with any person. Even the relatives left the food at a distance to be picked later by the person. More distressing for a devout Jew however, was the fact that he was considered levitically unclean and as such found unfit to share in the worship of God. At the same time if any one touched the leper was considered unclean and could not partake in ritual worship. In other words, leprosy was considered a loathsome disease and a leper was cut off completely from the community. Jesus is given to us today as a person who intends to bring the lost person into the community. In fact all the three readings tell us of community building.
Today’s First Reading from the Book of Leviticus, tells us of society’s treatment towards those who suffered temporary skin disorders. Being called unclean because of their afflictions, they were isolated from the community. And also, they were expected to behave in a certain way. A person infected with leprosy had to wear the clothing torn and hair disordered and had to shield his upper lip and cry, ‘Unclean, unclean’. Since they were considered unclean, they had to live apart, outside the camp. This was due to the fear that such diseases are highly contagious; therefore require isolation from the community. There was the religious obligation that a person going for religious worship must be physically clean. When someone was suspected of having a skin disorder, he was sent before the priest who would examine the person to determine the status of his condition. The priest did not do this as a physician but as a judge who interprets the Law of Moses.
Today’s Second Reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians tells us that charity is the first spiritual Law by which Christians must live. Charity must govern the behaviour of each and every Christian. The Christian behaviour ordains that those who shine in the light of Christ be servants of others, not offending anyone by their actions. They must not seek their own advantage, but that of the others. The Christian behaviour ordains that because the conscience of the person who is acting this way may not be disturbed, it is no reason for saying that it is nobody’s business how one dresses or behaves. One must remember to love and respect his neighbours because they are the Temple of God. A Christian does everything for the glory of God so that he may dwell in the Divine Presence of the Lord Jesus. The true Christian is ready to sacrifice his ways in service to the others so that they may be saved. Contrary to this, one can decide to have his own way and behave in such a way that scandalizes others.
Today’s Gospel Reading from Mark echoed three messages related to dwelling in the Presence of the Lord. First of all, the miraculous healing of the leper that takes place through the Divine power and the concern of Jesus. His miracles are extended to everyone, even to the lepers considered as discard of the Society. Jesus came to save all and in his kingdom there is place for every one. Secondly, Jesus calls for secrecy of his healing work as we hear him telling the cured leper not to say anything to anyone. For St Mark the revelation of Jesus is gradual and Jesus himself does not want any publicity of his miraculous works. The final message in the Gospel is that once one is touched by God he cannot remain the same. He is now God filled and he is called upon to proclaim the kingdom of God. That is exactly what the leper does. The Gospel does not tell us whether he fulfilled the law proclaimed by Moses but indicates the human concern shown by Jesus. The compassion of Jesus intends to make the leper a total and complete person to be received back in the society.
This passage tells us that the entire episode is the mode of prayer taught by Jesus. The leper quietly approaches Jesus even though he had to be at a distance. He is desperate and looks for the healing. He falls on his knees before Jesus, to make his request in faith. There is marvelous faith in his heart-rending appeal: “If you want to, you can cure me.” It is his prayer of request or petition. We are touched by the deep concern of Jesus who strongly feels for the suffering person. His compassion is total and complete and wants to bring the person back into the society. Jesus responds in a unique way. He touches the person and tells him that he wants him to be healed. In doing so he rendered himself ritually unclean, opened himself to the risk of contagion but also expressed solidarity with the sick man. For the leper it is a simple prayer of petition which is the Christian prayer where we make a request of God and get a response from him.
Our prayer before God is that we place before him our needs and tell him that if he wants he can fulfill our request. There was the deep faith and trust in that heart-rending appeal of the leper: “If you want to, you can cure me.” It expresses the man’s confidence in the power of Jesus. He must have already seen it at work in the other people who were healed that day. It is this faith which is seen in the Gospel as the necessary and sufficient condition for being made whole again. He now had to get an official endorsement of his being healed. He is told to go to the priests who will examine him and then pronounce him fit to re-enter society. At the same time, he is strongly warned by Jesus not to say anything to anyone about it. Jesus wanted no publicity for his work or any external praise. But the man went away but then started talking about it freely and telling the story everywhere so that Jesus could no longer go openly into any town but had to stay outside in the places where nobody lived. Even so, people from all around would come to him.”
There is a lesson to be learned here for all of us. In our spiritual work for the glory of God, we must be of one mind. We must work together, not against each other. There is no need to compete for glory in the work of the Lord for all glory goes to the Lord Himself. If one seeks glory in his Christian work, then he is not of the Spirit of Christ! We must be the healers and be ready to spend life for others.

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