Do Not Ignore the Man Behind the Healing

Feb 11, 2018: 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46
Psalms 32:1-2, 5, 11
First Corinthians 10:31–11:1
Mark 1:40-45
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Today’s readings remind us that if God grants us something we should show our gratitude by glorifying Him and doing His will, not running off and ignoring His wishes.

In today’s First Reading, the spiritual and social consequences of being diagnosed with leprosy are laid out for the people of Israel. Even today when ill people show outward symptoms, regardless of how contagious the disease is, people who don’t want to be infected often avoid them. We have hand sanitizers at entrances to public buildings, and some people wear surgical masks in public. Some people even today see someone down on their luck (health issues, financial issues, family troubles, etc.) as being punished by the Lord for something they did. In the Old Testament leprosy was not just a question of public health and avoiding the spread of a contagious disease. The Lord punished sinners from time to time with leprosy (such as Moses’ sister Miriam when she questioned God — see Numbers 12:1-15). In the Old Testament mentality, a mentality still present at the time of Our Lord’s earthly ministry, sin, and malady were linked, with the malady being punishment for sin. When a leper declared himself “unclean” so people wouldn’t draw near he wasn’t just saying he had a contagious disease. The Lord cursed him.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that we should do everything for the glory of God, or else we run the risk of working against Him. You can glorify God in everything you do if you strive to do His will in everything you do. Not everything we do glorifies God. For example, breaking the Ten Commandments does not glorify God. Our Lord in the New Testament made it even simpler: love one another as He has loved us. St. Paul insists today that Christianity is not a social clique: we should show love and respect for everyone, Christian and non-Christian. We should act not just for our benefit, but also for the benefit of others, in imitation of Christ and the Saints.

In today’s Gospel, the leper received a miracle, but then turned around and did exactly the opposite of what Our Lord told him to do. He was healed and did not glorify God as he was instructed to do, despite Our Lord’s clear instructions. As a result, he ended up hindering Our Lord’s work instead of helping it. Leprosy is an apt metaphor for how ugly and detestable sin is. That man was avoided and rejected by everyone. It took courage for him to approach a holy man and ask to be healed. Touching a leper was ritual contamination. We can only wonder if Our Lord knew the leper would go out and ignore His instructions out of misguided enthusiasm. When He is stern, it is usually because He already reads something in the soul with which He is dealing and is trying to get through to them (for example, the scribes, and Pharisees). Word of Our Lord’s miraculous healing abilities starts to spread despite His efforts, and now even when He goes off to a deserted place, people come looking. Many are not looking for a savior or friend, but for a miracle worker. The leper was ecstatic over being healed, but did not work with Our Lord, and, inadvertently, worked against Him. We sometimes forget that the Lord does not just work flashy miraculous things in our lives: He gives us our existence, our daily bread, help against the evil in the world, and the truth that will set us free. Our Lord knows those people in today’s Gospel have a deeper need that they are not addressing by just seeking the band-aid solution of a miracle worker: they need friendship and communion with God to be truly healed and whole. Our Lord heals those who come to Him, but He also knows that for many it will only be a band-aid for something deeper to be addressed and changed in their lives, something He has come to address and to fix definitively. The leper by his actions showed he had only accepted a band-aid solution and not addressed a deeper problem: his friendship with God. Friends help their friends to do good, not hinder them. Our Lord does not want just to be a miracle worker in our life; He wants to be our brother and friend.

Being ostracized in common manner of speaking means that someone is excluded from a group by common consent. The word “ostracize” comes from an ancient Greek practice of temporarily banishing someone by popular vote. The Greek word ostrakon means potsherd or shell. Anyone eligible to vote could write the name of someone to ostracize (on a shard of pottery — ostrakon) and if enough votes were collected the person, without any other trial or process, would be banished for ten years. Ostracism usually was practiced to cast out someone causing social or political instability for a time. It was not permanent exile. Our Lord in today’s Gospel was the victim of backhanded ostracism instigated unintentionally by the very person He wanted to heal: the leper. That leper spread His fame everywhere, against His wishes, and Our Lord needed to exile himself. In Our Lord’s Incarnation, He chose to work humanly, and the leper had now hindered that.

Paul gives some great advice this week: do everything for the glory of God. Is there anything in your life that does not glorify God, habitually or otherwise? Make a conscious effort this week to take stock of whether you are glorifying God in everything you do.

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