This reflection is for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B, 2/11/2018.
Expelling the leper from our midst is certainly easier, but Christians have never been promised an easy row to hoe, now have we?
Today’s reading really challenge us to creatively and lovingly find a way to deal with those we’d rather just not have to see, those we’d rather just push to the margins, or maybe even lock up and throw away the key!
In the first reading, from the Book of Leviticus, we see a very sensible and easy solution to the problem with Leprosy in the community; 1. confirm the person is indeed unclean, 2. label them/publicly identify them as unclean, 3. keep them far away so as not to infect the rest of the community. Sounds a lot like our penal system doesn’t it? Or is it a correctional facility? Sometimes it’s hard to tell. No wonder Jesus taught his disciples to visit “him” there! (MT 25:31) If we don’t do anything, nothing is going to change!
The “Get ’em outta here!” approach makes PERFECT sense! It is indeed very difficult to argue with this approach, and I have argued for it many times in my own classroom. When someone in the community has the potential to infect the rest of us get rid of them! We even have some sayings to help reinforce this truth. Things like, “One bad apple spoils the bunch,” or in my case with Cuties from Costco, “One bad cutie ruins the bag.” It’s true! That’s why its so popular. If it’s cancerous, cut it out!
We love these idioms because they are so true. However, we have to be very careful when applying truthfulness about fruit (or infections, or cancer) to truthfulness about people. Said in another way, what we do with fruit might not be so effective when dealing with people. After all, rotten fruit has no possibility for transformation, renewal, and redemption–but people do.
As Christians, we have to look to Jesus–not stock phrases, or rely simply on Levitical Law to address our communities. Jesus himself shows us a better way in today’s Gospel. Far from expelling the leper, Jesus shows us that with His power, people can and do change. Really! They do! It’s true of me, many of my students, and maybe even of you. The Church even challenges us to use recourse to the death penalty ONLY in the rarest cases where there is no way to protect innocent life from the unjust aggressor that the sinner may in fact be converted, seek forgiveness and mercy, and be saved! (C.C.C. 2267)
As Christians we hold out every hope, and believe in the power of God to transform lives. We see quite clearly in the Gospels and in the witness over the centuries from the lives’ of the Saints, that God’s forgiveness, mercy, and grace are possible at every moment of ours and others’ life, and often comes pouring in when we least expect it!
I wonder though, do we even expect it at all anymore? Do we still, like a child, pray for amazing miracles? Do we hope beyond hope and pray without ceasing for juveniles in our youth prisons? Are we working toward real change in the way we, as a society, deal with the homeless, the unemployed, the addicted, and/or the incarcerated? Or have we lost hope? Have we become no better or different that the haters and nay sayers that surround us at work and in the market place? Shame on us (I’m included in this).
Jesus told his disciples when they were looking for a limit, that his mercy and forgiveness (and theirs too, and ours too) must be limitless. “Not seven times, but seven times seventy,” he tells them. (MT 18:22)
I think if we’re going to call ourselves Followers of Jesus Christ, we must remove from our thought, language, and actions any trace of the throw away society in which we live. We must instead, with everyone and every situation, be open to the power of God to change hearts and minds, to make enemies friends, to make new roads through what appears to be a dead end. We must be always thinking about how God is going to make a miracle out of the mess. We must pray that God will open a way even we don’t see a way. We must be open and seeking for God’s grace. In other words, we must be faithful. Yep. There it is. We must be people of faith in the midst of a perverse and twisted generation. We must be like Jesus–lights in a world of darkness.
It’s a good thing Lent is near! We still have time for God to make an amazing transformation in us, in our families, in our communities, and especially in the least among us.
God Bless, Stephen