Just a Word… Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time…
Just a word… Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time… February 14, 2021
Why on this day when our thoughts naturally turn to warm and fuzzy pink hearts, chocolates and red roses, does the church present us with lepers? We want to call to mind and reach out to those we love and have loved in our lives, and the church wants us to think about those who were not lovable, the untouchables of Jesus’ time, those who were affected with the repulsive, debilitating, contagious disease that separated them from their families and their communities, even their places of worship. Once their condition was diagnosed by the priest, acting as the judge, they were sent to live alone, outside the camp, covering their faces, bowing their heads and crying, “unclean, unclean,” if coming near another person. The terms of their treatment by the community were set in the Book of Leviticus, and the priests followed these instructions to the nth degree.
Enter Jesus. He treats the leper who approaches him in a shockingly different manner than is prescribed by Mosaic Law. He acts not as a judge, but as a compassionate healer. Jesus defies the law and touches the untouchable, making himself ritually impure in the process, but showing the leper and all of us that nothing, no condition, no situation is beyond the reach of God. Jesus restores the leper not only to health but to his family, his community, his ability to worship. His healing is not confined to the physical, but includes the spiritual, the emotional, the social… in all ways, the leper is healed, he is made whole. He goes forth to proclaim the good news of his miracle.
But, there’s more… the scope of Jesus’ touch reaches beyond one person. By acknowledging the dignity and worth of the leper, Jesus raises up all whom society considers less than perfect, whether physically, mentally or economically. He calls the culture’s exclusionary ways into question. He models a new way of thinking, of living… he introduces the kingdom he will go on to preach.
This gospel gives us a sobering reminder; once touched by God, sacramentally, spiritually or emotionally, we are sent to do the same for others, to touch our world with compassion and love, to show that with God there is no person who is untouchable.
On this Valentine’s Day, when we are all more or less untouchable, we may not be able to offer a physical touch or hug, but we can do our best to touch hearts. The kind of love we are called to imitate is not always the warm, fuzzy kind. Sometimes, it is messy and complicated. Jesus ended up on the cross. But that seems to be the very nature of being a follower of Christ; real imitators of Christ are called to touch hearts, restore relationships, raise people up and make them whole. Perhaps being confronted with lepers is exactly what we need today to help us better understand the breadth and depth of God’s love, for us all.
Happy Valentine’s Day!