Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – February 12, 2012. The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/021212.cfm . As always, thanks for reading and your feedback. God Bless! Fr. Jim
How comfortable are we in putting our lives in God’s hands? To laying down our lives, our hopes, our dreams, our wishes to Him? That’s one of the hardest things that we as Christians struggle with and is essential to this Gospel passage we just heard. Because the poor man struck with leprosy is able to recognize who Jesus is and surrender to Jesus’ will – whether he performed this miraculous cure or not. But we’ll come back to that.
Until I saw the film The Human Experience (quick plug, once again – brilliant film by the way) I didn’t know that there are still people who suffer from this gruesome illness of leprosy. In biblical times, lepers would have had to have lived in isolation – often times in filth and poverty as the disease is extremely contagious. Aside from the health concerns, the poor people who suffer from this aren’t just in wretched pain. The bacteria produces paralysis, deformities throughout the body as fingers, skin, waste away – so there’s pain from the illness, coupled with embarrassment at how they look. Most of the victims find that the people who mean the most to them, their family and friends could not be near them (and in some cases, don’t want to) because of how contagious the disease was. In many ways, leprosy was one of the worst of worst case scenarios. Even more, this guy in the gospel most likely would have to wear a bell around his neck to announce to people that a leper was approaching so they would avoid him – can you imagine how humiliating that must’ve felt.
Despite all of those realities that the leper experienced though, the leper must have heard Jesus or perhaps saw Jesus from a distance, and something within him is changed. He senses, perceives, recognizes something very different in Jesus than he has from any other person – including his closest family members and best friends. So much so that he abandons whatever embarrassment he felt over of his physical appearance, he ignores the rules that society had imposed on him forcing him into isolation to protect those who were clean and disease free and look at what he does: He throws himself on his knees in front of Jesus and makes a prayer from deep within his soul – with faith, with trust, with confidence and humility… He says to Jesus: “IF YOU WISH, YOU CAN MAKE ME CLEAN.” Not – can you do this for me? – Not I’ve heard about you, you’re the miracle guy, right, can you help a leper out? In his heart and soul he recognizes that in Jesus all things are possible. That Jesus desires our wholeness, our healing, our connectedness. He recognizes that Jesus can heal him, can clean him, restore him…
But that recognition precedes the miracle. Which is somewhat miraculous itself. And had Jesus not performed that miraculous cure, the leper’s recognition of who Jesus was wouldn’t have changed. In going to Jesus with that prayer, he was putting himself, putting his life in God’s hands – realizing that were the leprosy to remain, that didn’t mean that Jesus didn’t care for him, didn’t know what was burdening him. No it would have meant that God was working in his life in some other way that might not have been as immediately obvious as this instant cure that takes place.
I think that’s the biggest difficulty we face in our prayer lives. We often come with a list of requests, wishes, concerns – which is a great thing for us to do in our prayer. But more than likely, we also have our answers to them. Jesus I’ve been out of work for so long, I know you can do all things – so when I have my interview this week – well, you know what to do… thanks. Jesus, my parents and I are fighting all the time – I KNOW YOU WANT ME TO DO THIS, so if you could convince them I’d appreciate it… Jesus, I know I didn’t study all semester or do any work, and now I’m failing, so if you love me, you’ll hear my prayer and send that Holy Spirit in my brain to magically make the answers appear and I’ll ace all my exams – (that one was from personal experience, a prayer not answered)
We know that we are to go to Jesus. We know that Jesus loves us. But we can fall into the trap of believing that if he loves us, he will answer prayers in the way we want them to be, when we want them to be answered. And If that’s the case, then Jesus isn’t our Savior, he’s our “genie in the lamp” doling out wishes to our demands. Which is why I think Jesus orders the leper not to tell anyone about what he’s done for him… The leper recognized Jesus for who he was not what he could do for him. It’s not that Jesus doesn’t care about people suffering from leprosy or that he doesn’t care about any of the things that we’re struggling with and bring to him. And in His own way, through each of us, God still does amazing things. But what’s at the forefront, what weighs on God’s heart and mind, that he is concerned about is the illness that all humanity is suffering from – sin. And that sin can lead to death. He wants us to desire to be set free of that first and foremost and he readily, happily – no lovingly, offers to cure each and every one of us from that illness right now. So he didn’t want people to get hung up and absorbed on an illness being cured, multiplications of loaves and fishes, walking on water or any other spectacular miracle.
Jesus is more interested in our eternal salvation… wanting us to draw closer to Him as “the way, the truth, the life” that leads to that destination. His love for us isn’t revealed in whether we get what we want when we want it. It was made real on the cross as he lays out his arms and offers his very life for me and you.
To the real illness, the leprosy of our souls – sin, Jesus comes to offer himself as the antidote as the cure. And that is made present in the most precious miracle we experience at every Mass, that in the Eucharist as bread and wine become his very body and blood promising that as we eat and drink it, we have Eternal life within us. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, in going to confession, where we acknowledge our sins, we find ourselves going to our knees, placing our lives in God’s hands and recognizing where we have not followed His will, His plan, His desires for us…
To you and I tonight He says – I do will it, be made clean – will we embrace the lepers faith and be willing to accept the gift?