6th Sunday of Ordinary Time
15 February 2015
Tony van Vuuren
Mark 1: 40-45. 1 Corinthians 10:31-11,1
One of the distinguishing aspects of Jesus’ public ministry was that he ignored the social and religious customs that excluded people who were sick and made them into outcasts. He refused to go along with the notion that there were certain individuals to whom God could not be made accessible.
The Gospel story isn’t just about Jesus taking pity on an outcast and healing him. After all, he breaks a strict religious code by touching the leper. In the eyes of religious leaders a holy God required a holy people. The man’s disease made him unholy and so his presence defiled the community.
He was cast out, and without his community how could he come to know and worship God, because God is known only in community? In ancient times expulsion was a form of death. A person’s physical survival was impossible without the protection and identity offered by human relationships.
Jesus deliberately confronts the people’s notions of God and religion by touching and curing the man. He breaks the barrier the community puts up between good and bad; clean and unclean; but because of his contact with the leper Jesus is now ritually unclean, and polluted. He has traded places with the leper who is now an “insider,” while Jesus has become an outsider.”Outside the camp.”
There he will be with people like us, when sin cuts us off from others; when even our religious neighbours consider us less worthy to share their lives.
Jesus, the outsider, is looking for those who have walked away or had to leave their religious communities because they no longer feel welcome and are just tired of trying to fit in, because of who they are in life.
In the short second reading St. Paul describes the distinctive principle which should govern relationships among Christians. This is the ruling spirit in which members of the Christian community should treat each other and deal with each other: “not seeking my own advantage, but that of many.”
The Christian law of love overturns the principle of self-interest which infects human relationships at every level, even – perhaps especially – at the level of our closest relationships.
First there’s the element of conscious effort on our part, an effort of will aimed at disciplining our self-seeking instincts and fostering a love and concern for the welfare of our neighbour. And then there’s the element of openness to the influence of God’s grace.
The transformation of our character, our growth in holiness and God-like love, isn’t possible by our own willpower or self-discipline alone. It’s mainly the outcome of being receptive to the life of God within us, and that’s as true of the spirit or atmosphere of a whole community as it is of the character of an individual person.
It’s only when the members of the community are agreed about the importance of fostering the divine life within ourselves that the spirit of communion will take hold and our relationships with each other will assume this quality of mutual care and service that Paul is talking about.
A wonderful example of this is the Umoya Project, currently being undertaken by our parish Genesis young folk for those less fortunate.
When we close ourselves off from God though we fall back into the rivalries, power-struggles and jealousies that destroy the spirit of fellowship and solidarity.
God is a flow of relationships to be experienced in community, family, parish, friendship, and hospitality. When we live inside of these relationships, God lives inside of us and we live inside of God. Scripture assures us that we abide in God whenever we stay inside of family, community, parish, friendship, hospitality and when we fall in love.
For Christians, everyday should be Valentine’s Day. After all, the day is all about love and God is love. Yet, we can often go about our day as if we are not loved and not being loving.
Pope Francis had this to say in a homily in January: “How can we know God?
This truth is explained less by the intellect than by the heart, God is love! It is only on the path of love that you can know God…And how can we love what we do not know? Love your neighbours.
This is the doctrine of two commandments: ‘You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and: You shall love your neighbour as yourself’…To get to the first, we must ascend the steps of the second: that means that through our love for our neighbour we can get to know God, who is love.
Only through loving can we reach love. It is a concrete love made of works and not words. To know God we must walk through life in love; love for your neighbour, love for those who hate us, love for all.” (Homily, Casa Santa Marta, 1/8/15,
“ONLY THROUGH LOVING CAN WE REACH LOVE.” Do we really want to have a loving relationship with God, who loves us unconditionally? Love your neighbour. And who is my neighbour? Everyone.
Every person who walks on this Earth of ours is our neighbour. To love everyone is radical thinking though. Love someone who hates me and offends me? Love someone who is dirty and unkempt? Love someone who thinks differently from me? How can I possibly know God by loving that which I find difficult to love?
We cannot turn in on ourselves. We cannot believe that we can have a complete Christian spirituality without giving the love that we have received. The cross of Christ is both vertical and horizontal. To love God above, we must love God in our neighbour who is also made in God’s image.
“Only through loving can we reach love” is a mantra worth repeating.
On Wednesday next week we begin our journey of the Lenten liturgical season. It’s a time of hope, not sadness. Lent is a time when God invites all of us to enter into a deeper relationship with Him. We pursue that through prayer, fasting, acts of mercy and justice, and a return to the Sacrament of Penance.; and an opportunity for reconciliation.
Although we do not suffer from a physical leprosy on the outside, we may suffer a spiritual or a sinful leprosy on the inside. Is there something in our lives that we are carrying around with us that keeps us unclean and makes us feel unworthy to be full and active members in our community? Is there something so hideous to look at or touch that we cannot fathom letting Jesus touch it?
After all, Jesus is the Messiah, the Holy One of God, the Saviour. However, our Jesus is also the Jesus in today’s Gospel, who is moved with pity, who wills to heal and who stretches out his hand to touch what is thought to be untouchable.
If Jesus is unafraid to touch our deepest, darkest hurts and impurities, then let us not hide them. Just as the leper approached Jesus with faith and humility; let us also approach Jesus for our healing.