Reflections on Sunday’s Readings: February 11, 2018
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46
1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1
“Called to Re-humanize our Society”
A year ago I was able to take a belated jubilee trip with my sister, Phyllis, and three cousins and their spouses. I had put this off because of some assignments and because of my Dad’s health concerns and then his passing. But last year seemed like a good time to celebrate life, my Franciscan vocation, and the joy of being with members of my family.
We went to Hawaii for two weeks together. Hawaii really is a place of beauty, a real paradise. We saw the homeless there, and also the local parish responding to them. These are worldwide realities. We also visited Pearl Harbor because my Dad had served for five years in the South Pacific during World War II. We flew over the active volcano on the Big Island, did some hiking, and we played golf along the seashore!
All was lovely. But the one place I really wanted to see in the islands was Molokai. My family members were very much interested in this visit also and helped arrange for it. This is the island where villagers were sent in the 1800’s onward if they had contracted leprosy.
We heard the stories of Fr. Damien who came first as a part-time chaplain, and then he volunteered to stay permanently with the people there. He wanted “to close the gap” between himself and the people living there with this disease. Damien lived with them, ate with them, and advocated to the government for promised funding so they could build new houses, an orphanage, a school, and a new church.
Damien also helped arrange for Sr. Marianne and several other Franciscan sisters to come from Syracuse, NY, to Molokai to provide nursing care for the people there. They both very much wanted to connect with the people there as brothers and sisters.
As we listened to the stories of Fr. Damien and Sr. Marianne from our guide, I was deeply touched as we looked upon a memorial there with the Franciscan coat of arms. I am so grateful for many of my Franciscan brothers and sisters who have gone around the world to reach out to others with great compassion.
Their witness and story points powerfully to Jesus in the Gospel today. Jesus’ heart is surely the place where such compassion is born. As we look at the Gospel story initially, we see the boldness of the man with leprosy approaching Jesus quite openly. The man is supposed to stay away from others and to cry out “unclean, unclean” as we heard in the first reading. But he comes toward Jesus trusting that Jesus will not pull back or reject him. He senses in Jesus a freedom of heart that will go beyond the laws when needed for the sake of real persons.
The man with leprosy says: ‘If you wish, I believe you wish, you can make me clean.’ The man asks to be made “clean” not healed as such. He is asking to be brought back into his family, into his community, and not to be ostracized anymore.
Jesus is moved deeply inside by this man and his request. The Greek work is “splanchnizomai,” and it means much more than being “moved with pity.” The word means that there is deep feeling inside, in the guts, for this other person. Often, the example here is of a mother’s love for her children, or a father’s love for his children. There is a depth of feeling for the one you have given birth to or brought into life. It’s what we might mean when we say “Momma Bear” love or “Papa Bear” love. There is empathy and compassion and a protective concern.
And so Jesus reaches out to the man and touches him. In this moment Jesus becomes “unclean” also, but this does not stop him. “I do will it. Be made clean.” And this is how Jesus is with each of us, no matter how messy we may feel or be. Jesus wants to connect with us and heal us.
Then there is another strange line. It seems to say that Jesus spoke to the man sternly, but one translation is that Jesus “snorted.” And this fits so well with what we are saying about Jesus being a “Momma Bear” or “Papa Bear.” Jesus, with all of his emotion and energy to re-connect this person, snorts in the sense of saying ‘show the priests so my people will not to be treated in this way of isolation and blame.’
We see in this scene Jesus’ determination to set free all of creation from the powers (illnesses and social customs) that hold creation and creatures bound up. Jesus has in his heart the boundless love of the Trinity, and he wants all of us to know this fully. Jesus is always for us desiring that we come to a fullness of life. This is his mission: to free us, to heal us, to re-connect us in the human family.
This is the mission of all of us who are called to be disciples of Jesus the Christ. We are called to be bold like Jesus to go where others are hurting and re-connect them, to re-humanize our community and society.
One final thought today is from a quote from St. John Paul II. This is what he said at the beatification for Fr. Damien: “Holiness is not perfection according to human criteria; it is not reserved for a small number of exceptional persons. It is for everyone; it is the Lord who brings us to holiness, when we are willing to collaborate in the salvation of the world for the glory of God, despite our sin and our sometimes rebellious temperament.”
This is our mission as disciples of Christ.
Fr. Henry Beck, OFM / St. Francis Retreat House, Easton, PA