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Breath of the Spirit Reflection: Jesus and the Outcasts

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February 14th, 2021: Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46
1 Corinthians 10:31—11:1
Mark 1:40-45

Reflection from David Jackson

Both the First Reading and the Gospel speak about Leprosy. The first reading gives teaching on how lepers are to be treated. In Leviticus, we hear of lepers being forced to wear tattered clothes, living far from the community, and having to announce themselves as ‘unclean.’ The people of Jesus' time treated lepers in this way. In the Gospel we get a very different treatment of a leper by Jesus.

Some time back the movie Jesus Christ Superstar came out. One of the scenes from that movie which was seared into my memory was when the lepers approached Jesus. The scene was set in an isolated, out of the way place. It was dark as I recall and suddenly out from behind the rock formations emerged forms. These forms had their heads covered with a kind of hood. They cried out “unclean, unclean.”

I would first suggest that we try to put ourselves in the place of those lepers. What happens to a person who has been forced to live in isolated places for years, and every time they approached someone the person shied away or perhaps even shrieked away? Lepers were people with physical ailments. This sickness might have consumed a part of their limbs; they might have been on some rude sort of crutch; their faces may have been disfigured. Is it not possible that the isolation of the leper was as bad and did as much harm as the physical disease? We have to be struck by the person in the Gospel’s daring. What allowed them to approach Jesus? Was it out of desperation about the disease they approached Jesus? Did they think that things could not get any worse? Had they perhaps heard rumors about Jesus? They were able to approach Jesus, kneel down, and ask for help.

I wonder how these words of the leper were spoken. Did the sick person hurriedly and nervously blurt out the words, “If you will, you can make me clean”? Jesus tells the person not to tell anyone, yet the healed one spreads the news everywhere. This is completely understandable to me. Even after an eight day silent retreat people have much to talk about. This person had been isolated for a long time. Just the experience of being among other people would have impelled speech, I think. Besides this, the person had a marvelous cure to tell them about. I wonder if the cured person did go show the priest. Remember elsewhere in the Gospels we learn that Jesus’ record with lepers isn’t too good. Remember the ten who were cured, only one of them returned to thank Jesus. I might even wonder if the story of the ten is connected with the story of this person. Did this one go back and tell fellow sufferers about his experience with Jesus? Or had this person heard about Jesus from them?

Let us look also at Jesus. Jesus was moved with pity. The Revised Standard Version of this Gospel says, “Moved to anger.” This strong Greek word means having your intestines turn! It wasn’t the leper that disturbed Jesus. I think it was a combination of the disease and the way lepers were treated by other people that made Jesus angry. Jesus stretched out and touched him. According to Jewish law this touching made Jesus unclean. Jesus gave a stern warning and dismissed the healed one. This is a continuing part of Jesus’ not wanting people to be attracted to the ministry for the miracle-working wonders. Until people understood that the cross was to be part of this life, Jesus did not want to be broadcasted around. Interestingly enough there is not call for faith in this miracle. The way Mark develops his Gospel there is no call for faith in the early ministry of Jesus. This came later.

At the end of today’s passage Jesus ends up in the desert places and probably the leper is in the city. We probably can learn something about what to expect in our following of Jesus if we exercise this concern for outcasts. We might find ourselves in a different place or a different relationship with some people. Caring for those on the margins often requires crossing boundaries that social intuitions and religious authorities establish to maintain power and privilege, and it can come at a great cost.

From the leper we can learn that fear of approaching another is part of our life and living. Perhaps we have experienced the fear of approaching someone dear to us to ask for forgiveness. We goofed and are sorry but are not sure of their ability to forgive.

We must also examine our attitudes. Who are outcasts to us? For many people prisoners and ex-convicts are outcasts. Many elderly people are outcasts, actually cast out, out of their home and into a nursing home. Some of these elderly are forgotten, alone and isolated. Dying people are sometimes outcasts, the seriously ill, people who have been in mental hospitals, people who speak a language different from us, people who look different, people with a different sexual orientation, people who have contracted AIDS, etc.

From today’s readings, we learn that Jesus is concerned for the outcast, for the sufferer. In fact these people seem to strike a special chord in Jesus’ heart. Many times people who were excluded by others were included by Jesus.

We can dismiss the story of the leper by saying that Jesus could do miracles and we can’t. But we are still called to be imitators of Jesus. We should come to Jesus first with our need for healing, for wholeness (whatever form that need has in us). Who is Jesus telling me to look on differently, perhaps to stretch out and touch? We ask Jesus to heal us and make us healers, wounded healers.

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As a Catholic priest for 48 years David Jackson preached on most Sundays. Binding the Strongman (A political Reading of Mark's Story) by Ched Myers has been his go to for Cycle B, Mark. His love of Scripture led him to pursue an M.A. from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. For the past 16 years, he has sent out homily reflections to friends. For the last two years these reflections have also been available on Roman Catholic Women Priests Canada's bimonthly newsletter. Since he discovered Catholic Women Preach, that web site is part of his weekly preparation. At 82 years of age, he has been married for the last ten years to the love of his life, Alva. In March he published his first book, Jesus Gardens Me, available on Amazon.

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