Gospel Reflection for Sunday the 14th of February 2021
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Week 6 Ordinary Time
In the time of Jesus, lepers were not allowed to enter the Temple to pray. As if life for them was not hard enough, they were even deprived of spiritual consolations.
The leper in our Gospel passage is seen to make an act of faith. He approaches Jesus and makes a profession of Our Lord’s power: “If you want to, you can cure me”, he said, as an act of faith while falling on his knees. Faith is the disposition that Jesus looks for in those who would have His blessing.
The leper in this story shows both proper boldness and proper humility. He shows boldness in approaching Our Lord and in not being shy in asking for a cure. He shows humility in not presuming that Our Lord will heal him. “If you want to”, he said “You can cure me”. This combination of boldness and humility is instructive for our prayer: we approach Jesus with confidence and urgency but we should never presume to dictate His decisions. He is God; we are His creatures.
Jesus, however, does have compassion on the leper and touches him, healing him by His power. He chose to touch the leper even though He is able to cure without touching. Christian ministry is one of touch as the sacraments of the Church indicate to us. Touch is a gesture of unity and the leper in the story was touched by the Divine Physician – touched by God. The touch of Jesus was probably the first time the leper had been touched in a long time. How much healing there was in that touch! Jesus, true God and true man, is God with a human touch.
Leprosy is a disease of the skin that is akin to death of the skin. It is an odious disease in which the physical damage is great, but, more than this, because of the contagiousness of disease, the social isolation that follows causes great suffering.
Leprosy has a double significance in the Gospel. Firstly, on the level of the physical disease, Jesus has compassion for those who are sick. He has come down from heaven – we call this the Incarnation – and He has descended to the lowest levels, even to the level of death, touching the dead skin of someone with leprosy, a highly contagious disease. See how far down Jesus has come to meet us! He has condescended to meet and touch us. This is the first level: Jesus cures the physical disease.
But leprosy has a further significance. This ugly disease is a sign of what sin does. Sin causes death to the soul and causes separation from the community. Sin, too, is like a virus, in that the poison of sin spreads in a community. Sin disfigures and robs the soul of its beauty. The leper in the story is a symbol of someone who approaches Jesus for cleansing from sin. He is a symbol of someone who wants to be forgiven, sanctified, made whole, made new and re-integrated into the community. This Gospel story is symbolic of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and what happens to the human soul when the priest utters the words of absolution in Confession. The words of the priest are the words of Jesus commanding the soul to be cleansed. The spoken words of Jesus have immediate and automatic effect.
And then Jesus ordered the man to present himself to the priest in the Temple. This is the best bit! The man is now free to worship in the Temple with his family.
“Say nothing to anyone” Jesus said to the man. Why did Jesus burden the man with this difficult, perhaps impossible, request? How could the man not possible share his Good News? This request from Jesus relates to Our Lord’s focus on the work of Redemption. He did not want the crowds to see Him only as a miracle-worker. His main focus was His entry into Jerusalem and the Passion by which He would redeem the world. Until then, He wanted the stories of miracles to be kept as low-key as possible so that He would not be derailed in His plans to make of Himself a sacrifice on Calvary.
After His Resurrection, however, Our Lord wanted all his works to be broadcasted. The former leper was premature and just couldn’t keep a secret. If only we were this bad at keeping “the secret” (The Good News of the Gospel) what wonderful missionaries we would be!
-Fr Eamon Roche