Sunday, February 15, 2015

Sunday word, 15 Feb 15

Sixth Sunday of the Year B (15 Feb 2015)
Lv 13. 1-2, 44-46; Ps 32; 1Co 10. 31-11. 1; Mk 1. 40-45
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Modern minds discount old ways, practices and customs. Knowledge, after all, has freed us from prisons of misunderstanding and ignorance. Our desire to know belongs to being human; yet no one can know everything. An example: medical science keeps making breakthroughs and the human brain still holds secrets, like the purpose of sleep, of dreaming and the nature of brain disorders.

One attitude bows before knowledge as if it were fundamental or life’s goal or even divine. If knowledge is not fundamental, what is? Mystery. “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.”1 So Albert Einstein wrote. The revolutionary scientist reminded people to be humble before creation: humble before the sky’s expanse of stars; before nature’s powers; and before another human.

Mystery to religious folk is power, energy that affects them deeply: so deeply they organize their lives around it. Mark’s gospel presents Jesus to us as the Christ-mystery. As he announced the reign of God Jesus re-patterned creation according to God’s desire; his actions amazed everyone.2

The desire God held for creation humans had disrupted by sin. Its presence in the world is no secret. To pretend sin is not present strengthens sin’s deceiving, warping sway. From its beginning the law of Moses sought to guide humans away from sin’s deceiving scourge.

Scourge forms the root of the word in the Hebrew bible we translate with leprosy. We know what Moses referred to is not the disease3 we think of when we hear leprosy. The point is not correct or incorrect knowledge of the disease—as if correct, modern knowledge makes us greater than Moses. The point is two effects on people: that of the scourge of the skin…blotch which develop[ed] into a scaly infection; and Jesus’ compassion for those suffering it.

The effect of that blotch or scab on the skin made people unclean. Being unclean kept people from approaching one another and God. For a person with biblical leprosy to dwell apart outside the town was a vicious quarantine.

To be shunned was a death sentence to Mediterranean people. They were gregarious; their culture oriented them to groups more than ours. If our need for social interaction were a liquid that would fill quart jars, then Mediterranean peoples’ need would overflow our jars many times over. That continues in Mediterranean lands today: people flock to central squares or to harbors in the cool of the evening and socialize as they walk.

Being apart was torture. The leper languished living apart. Living apart caused greater anguish than the sore of leprosy that separated him. Separate and apart from others the leper still learned of Jesus. People have wondered how. Greater astonishment is this: the leper broke a rule to reach Jesus. [He] came to Jesus. He knelt and begged him…“If you wish, you can make me clean.” Jesus also broke a rule. Moved with compassion, Jesus…touched him and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” A lesson rests there.

Our lesson is not license to do wrong or be excessive. Our lesson calls us to search our inmost selves and uncover self-imposed rules that keep us apart from Jesus. What may this search look like? One may distance himself from Jesus when circumstances challenge or wound self-esteem. Proving ourselves is not always as prudent as asking Jesus’ help. Or a search may reveal one chronically distances herself from Jesus. Jesus longs we come close: Follow me. What can we do to learn Jesus better? Or our search may reveal we do not let Jesus amaze us. To ask that the grace of wonder resurge in us may be one of the more urgent prayers most of us can make.

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 the same reverent  courage.
  • Chat with him: praise Jesus for announcing God’s all-embracing love; tell Jesus 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 saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus gave us his prayer so we may remind ourselves God desires us to seek God’s healing help so we may become whole and to help others become whole.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise


  1. His 1931 essay, “The World As I See It.”
  2. Mark 1.27; 10.24, 32. The latter two show the disciples remained amazed at the one they followed. The word also carried the nuance of alarm and fright. See 16.5, 6: rather than resolve the Christ-mystery, Jesus’ resurrection intensified it. 
  3. Hansen’s disease.

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