SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (February 11, 2018)
A curious thread runs through the readings today: community.
The first reading regards what is destructive of community: isolating someone. We heard the plight of lepers. Leprosy included many skin disorders in a more primitive medical era. Those called lepers were ostracized. In our day, Hansen’s disease is treated. But, many contemporary groups suffer the fate of ostracism: physical reasons like being HIV positive, obesity; racial reasons like being Hispanic or Black; political reasons, like being a member of the “other” party; theological reasons like being conservative or progressive; sexual reasons like a different orientation.
Too often we read of the violent reaction of an ostracized, lonely student. We have other lepers: the annoying person at work, the demanding in-law, and the difficult neighbor. A current term for shunning is “NIMBY,” not in my back yard.
The leper must have heard of Jesus’ healing. He, against the rules, approaches Jesus. Jesus, against the rules, reaches out and touches the leper. Healed. He may now rejoin the community with unimaginable joy.
In our Gospel, Jesus teaches that instead of ostracizing those different from us, we are to “do community” by being always inclusive, letting community happen.
Jesus exhibited his ever-present compassion. John Shea wrote so well: “When the consciousness of sameness and connection replaces the consciousness of separation, compassion arises. Compassion is a felt perception of sharing a common world that drives us toward action.” Jesus showed us that real cleanliness is a matter of the heart. Compassion engenders community. Community engenders compassion in wonderfully non-vicious cycle.
Less than two decades after this incident, Paul will write to the Galatians [4:27-29]: “All of you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed your-selves with him. There does not exist among you Jew or Greek, slave or freeman, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus.” We are one community. In Christ no one is an outsider except the self-righteous who really believes others to be unworthy and therefore shuns them.
We see Jesus takes three steps in today’s Gospel. First, he feels compassion for the suffering and he sees the outreach of the leper. Second, he stretches out his hand and touches a man known to be “unclean”-- thereby making himself ritually “unclean.” Finally, he wills the healing to happen. He does something.
Jesus‘ three-step process teaches us to do as he did. We need to begin with compassion, daring to connect with people whose situation or condition turns us off or inclines us to avoid them. This calls us to deal with our own prejudice and insecurity. We may not want to “go there.” But, we need to go there. We have to be willing to touch lepers. We need to visit the sick, look the homeless person in the eye, and be faithful to members who reveal what we do not want to see. We need to develop respectful relationships - not stances with folks - regardless of what makes them “different.” We have to will to challenge any attitude, behavior, or structure that keeps people outside our circle. We have to will that no one be considered unclean or unworthy.
The Lord Jesus lavishes us with countless favors through the gift of his sacramental touch at the sign of peace and sharing Eucharist as we build community. May we realize that we have great value and dignity, so we can always reach out and show the same for others.