6th Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 11, 2018 (Thoman)

February 11, 2018 | Holy Spirit (SH) 

Lev 13:1-2, 44-46  I Cor 10:31-11:1 | Mk 1:40-45

“Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.’”

I. One of my favorite words is compassion. I think it’s even a bigger word than love. Compassion says even more than love. The root words of compassion are “pati”
and “cum.” This means “to suffer with.” A compassionate person is someone who “suffers with” someone else. A compassionate person can feel and know in their heart what someone is going through. To me, this drives deeper than love.  Jesus demonstrated this kind of compassion. Mark tells us “Jesus was moved with pity” when he saw the leper. The Greek word for this is “splagchnizomai.”

Literally this means to turn one’s intestines. What Mark is saying is that Jesus’ compassion was not just an intellectual kind of feeling sorry for the leper, but he felt in his gut: it was gut wrenching to see this leper. Jesus identified with the pain of the leper and recognized the leper as a person.  

II. Having identified with the leper so strongly Jesus immediately reached out to cure the leper. By doing so, Jesus crossed all sorts of barriers: The leper should not even have been in the area, they should not have been having this conversation, and by touching the leper Jesus risks contagion and exclusion himself. But in the gospel of Mark, the leper is more than simply someone who is ill. It is not just physical illness. The leper represents many different groups of people who get quarantined – or separated from the community.  Mark is setting up a contrast between the clean and unclean, the Holy and the unholy. The unclean means sin and evil. So the leper is representative of what is sin and evil. Jesus – the Holy – is busy about breaking down the barrier between the clean and unclean. In other words, Jesus is all about atonement. Another word for that is redemption. This brief cure event epitomizes the whole of Mark’s gospel.

III. Unfortunately, we continue to quarantine people: we continue to separate out people from ourselves. I don’t mean quarantine for medical reasons in order to slow the spread of disease: I mean identifying – labeling – demeaning – excluding - people from our concern.

A. We do that in society all the time: basically it’s whoever is the latest group we don’t understand or feel comfortable with. That could be people of a different ethnic group, different religion, the latest immigrant group to come to the country, gays, different economic status and so. As a society we identify individuals as belonging to a certain group and then we keep them separate – if not physically separate then at least mentally, if not legally.
B. And then in our own personal lives: it is those people we don’t feel comfortable around. That could be someone who has Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia, that annoying relative, someone covered in tattoos, dressed unconventionally, someone acting strange – or someone belonging to group identified by society – different races, religions, etc.

IV. Jesus demonstrates crossing the barriers. Remember is about atonement – at-one-ment. Jesus wants to include, not exclude.

A. First of all, Jesus identifies the outcast as a person. In this case, Jesus saw the leper as another human person.
B. Then he dared to reach out and connect with the person. He was being proactive and taking a first step.
C. By doing so, Jesus was willing to endure the consequences of his action. Applied to us, that means we risk criticism, ridicule, even rejection and exclusion. It is really interesting to note that at the end Mark says Jesus could no enter the town openly. He stayed in deserted places. Did the leper and Jesus exchange roles?

V. An example for us: do we avoid visiting someone who has dementia issues because it makes us feel uncomfortable? They keep talking in circles…they repeat thins over and over…we don’t know what to say…we tell ourselves they’ll never remember we were there anyway? So what?! Shouldn’t we be the one to reach out to them? 

VI. Reaching out to those among us who are quarantined is challenging. Compassion is tough. Perhaps the Jesus’ example causes us to do some soul searching. It’s a good thing Lent is upon us.
Fr. Dwayne Thoman