6TH SUNDAY HOMILY: ORDINARY TIME [YEAR B]
THEME: Stretching Hands
BY: Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Leprosy is a dreaded disease, which, at the time of Jesus had no known cure. The leper was the most miserable outcast in Jewish society. He had to live away from the community. He had to wear a bell and cry out, “Unclean, unclean!” Worse still, he was also cut off from the worshipping community. Anyone who touched him would also be unclean. Hence, still alive, he was practically considered dead. This socio-religious custom, though, was based in Sacred Scriptures. The first reading this Sunday, from the Book of Leviticus, spelled out the prescriptions on how to deal with lepers.
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In the Gospel today, Jesus once again showed his compassion and power as the Divine Healer. He said to the leper, “I do will it. Be made clean.” And he was healed. But before saying those words, Jesus did something unusual and even unthinkable: “Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand (and) touched him” (Mk 1:41). In the sight of the Jewish leaders, it was such a horrible thing to do. Jesus could be declared unclean, and more importantly, he could be accused of violating the Law. But he did not mind. He was more concerned with obedience to the true spirit of the law.
His action imparts several important lessons for us. First, this was an expression of His overwhelming desire to reach out to people, especially those who are in need, the sick, the sinners and the outcasts. “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” (Mk 2:17). With this touch of Jesus, the leper was healed and can now go back to his family and community – not any more an outcast, a living dead. The healing touch of Jesus gave him new life.
Second, Jesus touched the leper to impart healing in a personal way. God deals with each of us on a person-to-person basis. There is nothing impersonal with God. That is why Jesus taught us to call God “Abba”, Father. By touching the leper, Jesus risked being contaminated, “to fulfill what had been said by Isaiah the prophet: “He took away our infirmities and bore our diseases.” (Mt. 8:17). Jesus did this because, behind the horrible disfigurement of leprosy, He saw the priceless value of every human person.
Third, Jesus wanted to correct the common belief that sickness is a divine punishment for sins. By touching the leper, Jesus has shown that God is not a vengeful despot, but a loving and merciful Father. Sickness, no matter how contagious and horrible, is not God’s punishment. It is just the result of the frailty and limitations of the human body. And in fact, in Jesus, God has always shown genuine compassion for the sick and afflicted.
But most importantly, the action of Jesus in touching the leper is a serious challenge to all his followers. At the Last Supper, he washed the feet of his apostles and said: “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (Jn 13:15). With his action, he is instructing us to reach out to everyone, especially the lost, the last and the least in society.
That is what every Christian should do: reach out, care and share – all for the love of Jesus. Failure to do so is definitely a grave sin – sin of omission. Like leprosy, sin defiles and deforms our soul, and it separates us from God and from others. And basically, sin is rooted in selfishness. Selfishness is crossing our arms, unmindful of the needs of others – indeed, the cause of too much misery and pain in the world.
Jesus heals us of all our infirmities. Let us continue to pray for the healing of our sick brothers and sisters through the power of Jesus. Let us also help them in any way we can. But let us also pray for those who are truly sick in spirit: those who, in their selfishness, are unwilling to stretch out their hands. May the Lord touch them and heal their withered hands and hardened hearts so that they may once again learn to reach out and enjoy life in all its fullness.
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