Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sunday word, 12 Feb 2012

Out of Isolation
6th Sunday of the Year B (12 Feb 2012)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Jesus continued on his healing move, as we heard in the gospel. Our distance from Jesus, both in time and culture, distracts us from his mission. The distance of time causes us to think about things in categories familiar to us. The distance of culture causes us to miss things important in one culture that may not carry the same importance in ours.

The lectionary compels us to consider those distances because it paired Jesus’ healing of a leper with a passage from Leviticus about leprosy. Our distance from the times of Jesus and of the earlier history of his people as well as the ancient Jewish culture causes us to miss what it meant by leprosy. We think disease but biblical leprosy seemed more an imperfection than a disease.
The cause of the disease we think of when hear the word leprosy was discovered in 1868 by Gerhard Hansen. We hear leprosy, and you and I think of Hansen’s Disease, but that’s not biblical leprosy. The description of biblical leprosy as a white blotch which spread, is more like psoriasis.1 Imperfect did not describe God, and, imperfections prevented people from approaching God. Worse, a person with biblical leprosy was required to dwell apart and live outside the camp.
To be shunned was a death sentence to Mediterranean people. By culture they were gregarious and oriented to groups far more than we are. If our need for social interaction were a liquid, which would fill some quart jars, then Mediterranean peoples’ need would overflow them many times over. Even today in Mediterranean lands, people flock to central squares or to harbors in the cool of the evening to walk and socialize. For me it’s amazing and energizing to watch.
Dealing with the imperfection of biblical leprosy by shunning, however, was not energizing. The cultural habit it had become long before Jesus suggests that Jewish people had forgot God’s desire to welcome people with imperfections and differences. The resident alien comes to mind: not only were they not to mistreat2 the alien living among them; from the lips of Moses, they were to love the alien, for that is what they had been in the land of Egypt.3 
While we may never know what biblical leprosy was, we do know two things. First, people had not learned a life-giving way to deal with biblical leprosy. Second, for Jesus to touch those so shunned was an act of defiance difficult for us to appreciate. Jesus’ refusal to shun was the beginning of healing the leper in the gospel. The disciples of Jesus surely must have been amazed when Jesus stretched out his hand and touched [the leper]. Cleansed people moved into the city, while Jesus remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere. Jesus chose a place fruitful for ministering God’s healing and uniting desire.

Touch was Jesus’ powerful way to challenge his culture’s sentence upon people. It also made clear that as the Holy One of God,4 Jesus announced what had been lost because of time and culture: God desires that people stand as one and help each other welcome God, not prevent each other from doing so.
Not to stand together is to isolate. Isolation has negative effects on well-being.5 One of the premier images of the church—of its self-understanding—is the body of Christ.6 Union with Jesus is union with others. How do we unite with Jesus and his mission? Are we quick to give ourselves to Jesus and to ask Jesus to help us negotiate our limitations and imperfections?
The gospel remembered that people kept coming to Jesus from everywhere. Why? Because Jesus embodied for them the joy of salvation. Do we make those words of the Psalmist ours and entrust ourselves to Jesus? Will we, like St. Paul, imitate Jesus to help others to be saved?
In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Compose yourself in the Trinity’s healing love.
  • Ask the leper of the gospel to present you to Jesus with all the courage and homage with which that leper approached Jesus.
  • Tell Jesus in your words what you do to isolate yourself from Jesus and from others.
  • Beg Jesus to touch your wound with his wounds to make you whole.
  • Close your prayer by saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus gave us his prayer to remind us that God desires us to seek God’s healing so that we can help others to become whole.

Link to the homily’s Spiritual Exercise
  1. Leviticus 13.24-27, verses not included by the Lectionary for the First Reading.
  2. Leviticus 19.33.
  3. Deuteronomy 10.19.
  4. Mark 1.24.
  5. A summary of one study.
  6. This is St. Paul’s image in 1Corinthians 12; Colossians 2.19.
Wiki-images of Jesus healing a leper and of Jesus Pantocrator are in the public domain.

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