February 12, 2009
Be Made Clean
6th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Mark 1: 40-45: “Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and
said to him, ‘I do will it. Be made clean’.”
During the time of Jesus, leprosy was believed to be deforming, incurable, and contagious. Lepers were ostracized by their community and families, and forced to live in the dessert or outside the villages. As the leprosy advances, the leper hardly looks human. No fingers. No toes. Face disappearing. No one wanted to draw near, no one wanted to touch them. And in a sense, they could not touch, for they could not feel anything at all. They don’t comb their hair, carry bells in their waist, and shout “unclean, unclean” as they walk to warn people of their coming. They are usually called the living dead. The Jews in the past believed that they were cursed by God because of their sins. Anyone who came in contact with them was considered “unclean” and could not go to the temple to worship God. The pain of being completely cast out of the community was really devastating.
Surprisingly, the leper’s wish to Jesus was not to be healed from leprosy but to make him clean. We miss the point of the gospel if we think that the leper’s request is equivalent to “Heal my leprosy.” The leper’s request was “I want to worship God. I want to be a part of God’s people, in relationship with Him. I want to touch others, to be in relationship to the people of God.” Of course he wanted physical healing. But becoming clean was much more important than to be healed. To be clean is to be able to return to his family, community, and the temple to worship God.
When I think of the story, I thank God for giving me a healthy skin. For us, a healthy and supple skin is an asset. We even spend a lot for moisturizers, conditioners, and lotion to keep our skin young and soft. Yet, the leper in our gospel is telling us a different kind of leprosy, hiding and living in our soul – that leprosy is called sin. This spiritual leprosy is much more dreadful and dangerous than the skin leprosy. Like the skin leprosy, it could ostracize us from our family, friends, community and God. Sin could destroy all relationships and isolates us from everybody.
How many families are broken because of unfaithfulness? How many of us are sulking in loneliness because of our failure to forgive? How many people have we hurt and in pain because of our insensitivity and selfishness? How many of us have closed our eyes and ears to the needs of our less fortunate brothers and sisters because we don’t want to leave our own comfort zones? We are tainted with our own spiritual leprosy because of our own selfishness and self-centeredness. And like the skin leprosy, if left untreated, our spiritual leprosy could eat us away, go deep into our being, and gradually destroy us and our connectedness to others and to God.
Today, we are fortunate that this skin disease is now curable. Thanks to modern medicine. But our sin, the hidden leprosy, is still with us, deeply rooted in our hearts. It is deeply imbedded in our hearts that sometimes we don’t even feel that it is there. Some of us may even say, “Ganito na talaga ako, hindi ko na iyan mababago” Deeply rooted sins can control and destroy us, unless we do something about them. How? Learn from the leper.
I admire this “unknown leper” in our gospel. Despite being ostracized, ridiculed and reduced to a “non-person” status, he bravely approached Jesus. He fell on his knees (an act of submission and humility) and said: “If you wish, you can make me clean.” It was a wish. It was not even a request. He knew he was unworthy. He knew he could not heal himself or make himself clean. He knew that Jesus can! But he also knew that Jesus has the right to refuse him. He made no demand. He has no right to make a request, but to beg for Jesus’ mercy.
The Jewish law forbids people to touch lepers. But the leper’s remorseful and humble disposition moved Jesus to come to him. Jesus stretched out his hand, touched the leper, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” Immediately the leprosy left him. The leper’s wish was granted – he was cleansed! Now cleansed as white as the snow, Jesus restored the leper’s right to reintegrate again with his community, live with his family and re-established his relationship God.
Our gospel today tells us of God’s unconditional graciousness. God is always willing to forgive our sins and restore our relationship with others and with Him. He wants us to be whole again and enjoy the fullness of life with Him and our love ones.
The call for us is to be like the leper in our gospel – acknowledge our spiritual leprosy, humbly come to Jesus, kneel in his presence and tell, “If you wish, you can me clean.” If there is one thing that Jesus cannot resist, it is a humble and contrite heart.
As we move closer to the Lenten Season, it is good to evaluate ourselves with the following questions:
What are my sins that cause my spiritual leprosy?
How did it affect my relationship with other people?
Do I have the courage and humility to accept them and bring it to Jesus?
Am I willing to obey Jesus’ words, “Go, and show yourself to the priest…”
and avail the sacrament of reconciliation?
"Jesus, my Lord and my God. Saviour and Redeemer. Hear the cry of my heart, feel the pain of my soul, see the need of my life. Cleanse me of all my sins. Take away everything in me...
...that does not bow before you as Lord.
...that does not have your name on it.
...that is resistant to your Spirit.
...that is impure and unworthy of You.
Lord Jesus, today I feel like an outcast leper. I kneel in front of you. Cleanse me deeply. Then seal me with your Spirit. Amen."
- Fr. Willy M. Samson, SJ
Mercedes Retreat House
February 15, 2009