February 14, 2021 At St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, FL
Leviticus 13, 1-2, 44-46 + Psalm 32 + 1 Corinthians 10, 31-11,1
Mark 1, 40-45
There are two things to remember as we listen to this Gospel with open hearts, because Jesus has something to say to us today. We have to remember that people in the days when Jesus believed in a theology or a system of reward and punishment. It is a system that is quite nice for those who think of themselves as “blessed” because of their privilege, good luck, or good health. It’s not such a good system for anyone who is sick or who has had string of bad luck. The result of this kind of thinking is that poor people, sick people, those with some disability, foreigners, or someone struggling with sexuality or gender identity ends up being treated like trash.
Into that steps Jesus Christ, the Son of God who refused to buy into that thinking and that attitude. He sees a leper and treats him with respect acknowledging his dignity. In doing so, he exposes that current thinking for how far it is from the will and plan of God. Jesus touches that man, and in doing so, he does not just heal him, he recognizes that this man is fully capable of bearing witness, of being a sign of God’s presence and action in this world. Then, he sends him to the priest inviting that priest to do his job of building up the community. He is actually giving those priests the first chance, before anyone else, to recognize what God was doing through him. They didn’t. They had their own ideas about how God was supposed to work, and who God would choose to reveal God’s presence. And it wasn’t going to be some nasty leper.
It is a powerful and unmistakable lesson about the need for disciples to be humble. You can be sure that those fishermen who had just left everything to follow him got the message and it was a hard one. If they thought for one minute that they should have been the ones sent to bear witness to Jesus, they were wrong. The news that leper had to share was that God does not want anyone cast out, marginalized, or left out. That leper was himself the message. His healing and his strength came from knowing that he was loved and accepted, and that no one could take that away. He was healed by compassion, touched by love, restored to humanity by respect.
It is not until those men called from their nets have themselves been beaten down, disgraced, and shamed by their own actions that they can bear witness to their Savior. It is not until Peter has denied Christ and been restored to his place among the apostles that he has any credibility at all. What restores the apostles who have hidden and failed Christ at the hour of his greatest need was compassion, the same compassion Jesus had for that leper.
Compassion, my friends, is not just pity or feeling sorry for someone. This emption is passion. It is suffering. It is heart wrenching. It is a response from the very depths one’s being. Jesus does not just touch that man with his hands. He touches him with his heart. He feels what that man feels, the desperation of being alone, cast off, shunned, despised. It is as though Jesus would trade places with him, and in some ways, he does. In the end, Jesus is the one who ends up alone, cast out, with a broken body, bloody and bruised that no one would want to touch while that leper goes free.
We are all lepers living like outcasts hiding from one another the truth of our lives. We even hide the truth from ourselves. We hide our sins. We deny our racism and judgements about others we don’t even know. So, we talk ourselves into believing that sin is something private and personal with no real social consequences at all. The evidence of that is the decline of our use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. “Why admit to someone else that we have sinned? After all, it’s just between me a God?” No, it isn’t. we avoid the truth that sin is often an attitude like prejudice, racism, sexism. It isolates us from one another avoiding those who are not like us, whose skin is different, or whose accent is different as though we don’t have one to their ears. We will find the key to accepting others, when we begin to accept ourselves as we really are. If anyone in here thinks they are not sinner, they don’t belong here.
The Jesus of this story is a man of kindness, not a man of judgement. This is a man who reveals the mercy, the kindness, and the compassion of God to those willing to ask for what they need. It is not healing from a disease that we need. It is acceptance, compassion, and reconciliation that we need, not just with God, but with each other. That’s why the man is sent to the priests to complete his total healing and reconciliation with those who have looked up him with judgement and cast him aside.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people began to run around and talk openly about how they had been treated by us Catholics: about the kindness, the compassion, and the respect with which we met them day after day? It’s amazing what people can do for others. People can rekindle hope, bring back a joy for living, inspire plans for the future, restore self-respect and pride, and it’s all a mirror of the infinite charity of God which is what we are all called to be.