6th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B - 15th February 2015

Excluded

In Old Testament times the law imposed very harsh restrictions on lepers. They had to wear their clothing torn and their hair dishevelled. They had to stay away from towns and whenever someone came near they had to warn the person off, crying out ‘unclean, unclean’. These laws were cruel but they were the only way the ancient communities could limit the spread of this contagious, incurable disease.

The leper mentioned in today’s Gospel breaks these laws. He approaches Jesus and humbly begs for healing. St Mark wants us to focus not on Jesus’ ability to heal but rather on the significance of the healing.

The leper who comes to Jesus is not only suffering because of his physical condition, he is also excluded from his family and community. This clearly adds to his sense of isolation and abandonment. So when he begs for healing, Jesus is moved with compassion at the sight of his suffering. In healing him, however, he also insists that he take the steps required to be readmitted to the community.

In this way, this miracle of Jesus touches not only the victim but also all those around him. Jesus is not only healing the leprosy, he is also challenging attitudes to it and this is made obvious when he reaches out and touches the leper.

The man is healed but at a cost to Jesus who becomes like a leper. He can no longer go openly into any town but must stay outside in places where nobody lives.

There are many examples from religious traditions around the world, including Christianity, which show that religion is often used as a means of excluding people. However, it is clear both from what Jesus said and what he did that the kingdom of God is inclusive. He reached out to those who were deemed rejected by God and even went so far as to include himself among them when he went to the cross.

Who are the outcasts today? Immigrants, itinerants, drug addicts? Who are the family outcasts ... relationships coldly terminated ... anybody we no longer talk to? 'If you want to you can cure me.' What miracle might happen if I were to feel sorry, stretch out my hand and touch?

Let us strive to recognise and overcome our own intolerance and to replace it with the compassion of Christ.

Fr Kevin O'Shea, C.M.