Lv 13:1-2, 44-46; Ps 32:1-2, 5, 11; 1 Cor 10:31—11:1; Mk 1:40-45
Unfortunately, Jesus really IS the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Now THAT’S kind of a bazaar thing for a priest to say in a Catholic Church on a Sunday morning.
Today we have yet another story of a dramatic healing by Jesus. This time it concerns a man with leprosy; a condition that makes him physically and spiritually contagious and therefore an outcast. So, why would Jesus warn a man sternly to not tell anyone who cured him? “See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.”
Well, Jesus already has a problem of being followed and thronged by people wanting an instant healing for their variety of ailments… from physical to the demonic. Who wouldn’t want a dramatic instantaneous healing for a serious affliction? I know I would.
Jesus, however, is teaching his apostles the art of spiritual healing. Calling on all the power and authority of heaven. We have to remember that Jesus is God and we are not. He says, “When you see Me, you see the Father.” The central image in most of our churches is the crucifixion which is the image of Jesus submitting His will completely to the Father. That’s where the power to heal and to teach with authority comes from. It is not self-generated by Jesus.
He calls a group of people to follow Him and learn from Him. They must work together to employ the power of God, the power of Jesus. They don’t know it yet, but when Jesus institutes the Eucharist at the last supper, they will be called into the very act of BECOMING one body, one spirit in Christ. It is when the members identify each other’s gifts (charisms) and develop them that we can actually BE Christ to each other and to all the nations. It is then when this collective infusion of ‘open hearts’, ignited by the Holy Spirit, that we manifest the power to heal and teach. When we can model the type of Communion that God has made us for.
Jesus does not want to be the designated magician who people call when they have a severe problem. If that were the case, His ministry and power would effectively be terminated once He is crucified. He intends to reside in the hearts of believers forever and wants all of us, seemingly ‘trapped’ here on planet Earth, to experience much of the very essence of heaven even during our earthly lives.
And this is why I said at the beginning that UNFORTUNATELY Jesus really is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The implications can be terrifying.
If we become one body, one spirit in Christ by getting to know each other on a deep level, then we would have to get to know OURSELVES on a deep level. We would have to sit still long enough to actually hear what is going on inside of us. We would have to attend to the sin, fear, anxiety, grief, pain, the confusion that is common in our species. We have here the two greatest human terrors: Getting to know ourselves and getting to know each other.
Anyone who has ever been deeply involved in parish ministry knows how complicated and frustrating it can be to be attentive to whomever walks in the door. Most people don’t appear to have had much personal or spiritual guidance during their lives. Many don’t appear to even have much interest in their own spirituality. And of course, none of us working and serving in the parishes, lay or ordained, are finished products. (Pointing at the crucifix) This is a pretty hard model to follow. To submit one’s will totally to the Father requires a very mature level of self-awareness. On the other hand, our service in the Church often DOES draw us more deeply into a rich variety of human encounters that would never happen anywhere else. It still amazes me how God continues to manifest Himself in the workings of Hiis Church.
But 2000 years after Pentecost, we probably should be much more advanced in our ability to live and act in the spirit. Or perhaps in the ‘Semitic heart’ as it is described in the Catechism:
Paragraph #2563 – The heart is the dwelling-place where I am, where I live; according to the Semitic or Biblical expression, the heart is the place “to which I withdraw.” The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation: it is the place of covenant.
But we were talking about contagions and how they can keep us apart or isolated. And how painful that was for a Jewish person, whose very identity was based on their affiliation with their religiously-based tribe, to be an outcast because of their leprosy. It was like not being a real person.
With our modern sense of medicine, we understand that leprosy in the scriptures likely represented a variety of skin ailments that manifested some type of bleeding or other abrasions. We also understand leprosy as a powerful symbol of the deeper underlying ailments of the human condition. Scripture scholar John Bergsma, in a commentary for today’s readings states that, “Leprosy disrupted community with God and Man…. Sin is a clinging contagion that contaminates the sinner and those he contacts. Sin destroys human relationships and our communion with God. Sin is a spiritual leprosy.”
We had a fairly recent experience of a contagion keeping us apart with the Covid pandemic. Many parishes have experienced a significant drop-off in attendance since Covid. A lot of people apparently just didn’t come back (or maybe they went to another parish). There was an impression that so valuable was the Eucharist to many people that its absence destroyed their Catholic affiliation. I seriously question that conclusion. I mean, we didn’t sever our relationships with our families because of Covid. There might have been some serious strain put on peoples’ relationships, but we still kept in touch by phone or media or other innovative means. That’s because those relationships were important and even vital to our very identity and survival.
I suspect people didn’t leave the Church because they could no longer stay in touch with other members of the Community. They left because the Eucharist was perhaps more of a symbol or maybe just magic bread. Without magic, why even bother trying to keep connected? Perhaps there was never an actual experience of ‘becoming one’ with other members of the community. Perhaps they never had any real sense of a common mission with the rest of the Church.
Maybe we are not so much different than the throngs of people who were following Jesus for the ‘magic’, the immediate and dramatic healing. They, or we, don’t always want to hang around for the relationship-building or the commissioning to go out to heal and teach others. That’s why we need Lent. To examine, heal, repent and commit to a more authentic life of discipleship.
During the next week we might consider the following reflection questions which can also be found in today’s bulletin:
How might I have disrupted community with God or other people by clinging to sinful attitudes and behaviors (contagions)?
When have I felt like an ‘outcast’ and how did Jesus call me back to life and community? Who did God send to help guide me back to healthy and holy relationships? How have I helped other ‘outcasts’ return to community?