Detailed homily for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B
Theme: JESUS IDENTIFIES WITH THE LEPER
By: Rev. Fr. Gerald Muoka
Homily for Sunday February 14 2021
R1 – Lev 13:1-2, 44-46
RESP PS – Ps 32;1-2,5,11
R2 – 1Cor 10:31-11:1
GOSPEL- Mk 1:40-45
In the 1850s, a young Catholic priest, St
Damien of Molokai was sent to a leper colony on the Island of Molokai, Hawaiian Islands; where people who were found with leprosy on the main island of Hawaii were put into cages, shipped off to Molokai, and literally dumped into the ocean near the Island. There were no medicines, no doctors, no shelters, no blankets–nothing but the hot sun during the day and cold wind beating on them at night.
Fr. Damien was asked by his Bishop, to go to the leper colony and put together a prefabricated chapel that had already been shipped there. There were some medical restrictions given to him inorder not to contract the disease. But conquering his fears, Fr. Damien defied all medical protocols, became the first non-leper to stay overnight on the island. He immediately began building shelters for the people. He constructed the Church and began saying Mass. He was surprised to find over a hundred people wanting to pray with him, even though only ten of them were Catholics. He was the first to show Christ’s love to them in deeds rather than mere words. A boat came to pick up Fr. Damien after his thirty-day medical visa expired, but Damien refused to go. He built a water system, planted over a thousand trees to protect the people from the scorching sun and continued saying Mass for the people. Lepers of all faiths and no faith went to his Masses. They said, “He holds our hands when we die.” In the end, Fr. Damien, one day, realised he never felt the hurt from hot water that spilled over his hand, indicating he had contracted leprosy. He died of the disease.
Beloved in Christ, in today’s Gospel reading, we see the master Jesus, identifying, touching and healing a leper; the most dreaded disease in His time, which traditionally, is given some religious imputations of defilement, sinfulness and impurity cum social stigmas of discrimination, isolation and ostracism.
Infact, the entire readings of today’s liturgy, remind us that we are called to become pure and holy. We practically attain this life of purity and holiness by confessing our sins to God and by sharing God’s love and identifying with everyone around us, irrespective of color, race, culture, religion, lifestyle, wealth, or social status; just like the holy man in the introit story, St Damien of Molokai, who like Jesus, never discriminated against the rejected lepers on the Island of Molokai, rather he chose to identify and even die with die.
*JESUS’ IDENTIFICATION WITH THE LEPER:*
The peak of Jesus’ Salvific role is realized in the “incarnation” story; whereby, Jesus chose to identify with us sinners inorder to make us holy and pure. Jesus’ identification and healing of a leper, whose sickness is given a religious implication of sinfulness, uncleanness and defilement, in the Gospel reading, is a kind of perfect prefiguarion of his mission: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29).
_In a traditional Jewish culture, as we see in the first reading, leprosy is a disease associated with:_
(i) Religious inferences of spiritual impurity, uncleanness and defilement (Lev 13:3).
(ii) Punishment for transgressions against God (Num 12:10).
(iii) Infectious and contagious disease (Lev 13:15).
(iv) Social stigma of segregation, separation, discrimination and isolation (Lev 13:4).
(v) Curse for playing double standards (2Kgs 5:27).
Yet, it is to such a person that Jesus identified and healed in the Gospel reading. This is the highest form of empathy and sympathy, manifesting the truism of this song: “only you can do what no man can do… Jesus; Only you can say what no man can say… Jesus; Only you can change every situation at all…Jesus.”
According to Fr. K. Anthony, one reason Jesus promptly responded to the leper’s cry in today’s Gospel story, ignoring the Mosaic Law prohibiting touching a leper and thus becoming ritually unclean, is that Jesus identified himself with the man’s condition. Jesus dramatically identified himself with the sufferer in the total rejection and isolation waiting for him.
Furthermore, the irony here is that Jesus risked becoming “unclean” Himself in order to make the leper clean. Just as he stretched out his hand to the leper and touched him and made him whole, Jesus stretched out his hands on the cross to make us whole. He touched the leper thus bridging the gap between what is clean and what is unclean, identifying himself with all lepers, with all who are ritually or socially unclean and isolated; and with all of us sinners who are spiritually unclean and have no way to change our condition except through His sacrifice and mercy. Thus, He became “unclean” in the eyes of the law that we might be made clean.
(1) GO AND SHOW YOURSELF TO THE PRIEST
(2) TEAR DOWN ALL WALLS OF SEPERATION AND DISCRIMINATION.
(3) IDENTIFY WITH THE SICK, AGED AND DYING.
*(1) GO AND SHOW YOURSELF TO THE PRIEST*
The scriptures affirm the priest as one who offers sacrifices for remission of sin (Heb 5:1-2). This is exactly why the readings of today’s liturgy places much emphasis on the sinner (leper) showing himself to the priest who alone has the temerity and capacity to declare him clean or unclean. Today, Jesus reminds us again to go and show ourselves to the priest at the confessional, if actually we believe in God’s loving mercy, who alone has been granted the authority to absolve us from sins (Jn 20:22; Mtt 18:18). We then ask ourselves, “When last did I show myself to the priest?”
*(2) TEAR DOWN ALL WALLS OF SEPERATION AND DISCRIMINATION.*
Another most important lesson in today’s liturgy, is the need to tear down all walls of separation and discrimination amongst us. St Paul in the second reading, reminds us on the need to treat one another with equal dignity, whether Jew or Greek. Jesus too, by His gestures in the Gospel reading, calls every one of us to demolish the walls that separate us from each other and to welcome the outcasts, osu, ume, diala caste systems and the untouchables of society as one, created in the image and likeness of God.
*(3) IDENTIFY WITH THE SICK, AGED AND DYING.*
In today’s liturgy, we learn from Jesus, how to identify with the rejected and abandoned, most especially, the sick, aged and the dying. Today, alot of Catholic Christians do not value “showing the sick and dying to the priest,” via the Sacrament of the Annointing of the Sick, that heals the leprosy of sin and prepare the way of healing for the sick and dying.
We need to remember that the Church continues the healing mission of Jesus and offers special healing prayers called the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick for those with serious illnesses (James 5:14-18; CCC #1509-10). Thus, one of the best ways of identifying with the dying is to allow him/her be declared clean by the priest, via the extreme unction.
Finally, Francis of Assisi, at one time in his life, had a terrible fear of lepers. Then one day when he was out for a ride, he heard the warning bell that lepers were required to ring in the Middle Ages. When a leper emerged from a clump of trees, St. Francis saw that he was horribly disfigured. Half of his nose had been eaten away; his hands were stubs without fingers and his lips were oozing white pus. Instead of giving in to his fears, Francis slid down from his horse, ran forward, embraced the leper, and kissed him. Francis’ life was never the same after that episode. He had found a new relationship with God, a new sensitivity to others and a new energy for his ministry, attained by identifying with the leper.
MAY GOD HELP US TO ALWAYS TRUST IN HIS MERCIFUL AND COMPASSIONATE LOVE AND EQUALLY IDENTIFY WITH HUMANITY IN THE SICK, AGED AND DYING.
*GOD BLESS YOU!*
_FR GERALD MUOKA_