Gospel Reflection 11 Feb - SVD INM - India Mumbai Province

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Gospel Reflection 11 Feb

Sixth Sunday of Year B [Mk 1:40-45]

11 February 2018

Jesus Cleanses a Leper

Readings: (1) Lev 13:1-2.44-46 (2) 1 Cor 10:31-11:1

1. Theme in brief

Liberation from our spiritual leprosy

2.  Focus Statement

Deeply moved with compassion and concern, Jesus touches our hearts when we cry to him to be healed from our ‘spiritual leprosy’ – just as he did to the leper in his day even by breaking the Jewish Law.

3.  Explanation of the text

Leprosy in Jesus' day referred to any of the skin-diseases that were considered ritually or ceremonially
unclean in Jewish society and religion. In his pre-scientific age it was the most feared disease and was considered to be highly contagious. As per Jewish Law, such people were treated as social and religiousoutcasts and were not permitted to take part in the religious life of the community ( see Lev 13:45-46). They were segregated from the community and made to live in tents outside villages and towns. They were required to cry out "unclean, unclean" to people who passed by so that they would stay far away from them. Touching them was a greater taboo because of the fear of contagion. If ever they got cured, a priest had to declare it and restore them to social and religious communion after their offering of a sacrifice to God in thanksgiving. Leprosy was considered to be a punishment for one’s sins. Therefore they were held personally responsible for their own illness and affliction, that is, suffering for their own wrongdoings. Today’s gospel text tells us how a personally, socially and religiously despised and rejected leprosy patient was rendered holistic liberation by Jesus.
The desperation and anxiety of the leper mentioned in today’s gospel is reflected in the way he approached Jesus. Though he was forbidden by law to go close to healthy persons, he was courageously proactive and daring in his approach to Jesus. He came to him with great humility, kneeling before and begging him to cleanse him from his dreaded skin-disease (1:40). Secondly, the text implies that he firmly believed andtrusted in Jesus’ power to cleanse or heal him. That is why he said, "You can make me clean" (1:40); or in other words, you have the power to cleanse me. Thirdly, by saying, "Only if you choose or if you are willing to make me clean, you can" (1:40), he submitted himself into Jesus’ hands, He begged Jesus to heal him only if he willed/ wanted/ wished. Though he had no doubt about Jesus’ power to heal him, he was not sure in his case whether Jesus would be willing to heal him or use his power. We can note here how a deepprofession of faith and a humble submission or resignation to God’s will are the two pillars on which the healing process rests.

Further, the text tells us how the
misery and suffering of the leper as well as his trust in Jesus made him an object of Jesus’ compassion. The strong Greek word used for "being moved" (in 1:41) implies that he wasdeeply and emotionally moved with pity within the core of his being. With all the tenderness, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him by saying: "I do choose (I am willing or I want to); be clean" (1:41). Here we see how both the leper as well as Jesus dared to break social and religious taboos which will have drastic consequences in Jewish society: the former by going so close to Jesus and the latter by touching the ‘untouchable.’ What is implied here is that Jesus willingly (readily) granted a wonderful favour to the sick person who submitted himself to his will. We notice how his leprosy vanished immediately (instantly) at the power of his touch as well as the power of his word (1:42).
Jesus sternly warned the leper to keep the fact of his healing a top secret (1:44) because he was afraid that people might misunderstand him as a wonder-worker or a political Messiah. Then they would fail to understand his mission to suffer and die on the cross. But the leper’s disobedience to Jesus’ command to maintain secrecy is an indication that those who experienced healing touch could not but proclaim his mercy (1:45).

4.  Application to life

Today’s gospel invites us to identify ourselves both with the leper referred in it and Jesus the holistic Healer. The former application leads us to the discovery of areas of
uncleanness in our life and to examine the sins, habits, addictions, attitudes and behaviour that cut us off from God and community. The latter application makes us realize how, as Jesus' disciples, we can continue his mission of reaching out to the rejected, the despised and those who are cut off from community with our healing touch.
For Jesus, physical healing (in this case healing of leprosy) was only an external sign of spiritual or inner healing. Therefore, cleansing the leper is a sign to tell us that he has the power to heal and liberate us from our inner or spiritual leprosy. This holistic healing ministry of Jesus is very much related to his purpose of coming into the world, that is, to establish God’s Rule (Kingdom). People could experience God’s rule of love by his concern for the holistic health of those who suffered from the evil of sin that separated them from God and neighbours, and sickness such as leprosy that segregated/ isolated them from their community. He wanted to give the message that God had sent him with power over evil so that he could liberate people from its fetters with his deep compassion.

Today, what are conditions/ situations that can be termed as our
spiritual leprosy?

Our sins: They keep us estranged and isolated (as lepers in those days experienced) from the love of God and neighbours. They create scars in our relationships and bring us as much misery as physical ailments such as leprosy. Every serious sin is a soul-sickness; it is like leprosy that causes loneliness, isolation, lovelessness and scars on our character. Once separated from God we plunge into darknessand get cut off from the source of life and goodness. Our ungodly ways wound the Church so much and create blots on her holiness.
(2) Compulsive habits or addictions: When a bad habit turns into an addition, it gradually destroys ourpersonality like the bacteria that destroys nerves and flesh in a leper. From ancient days till today people continue to get addicted to alcohol, gambling, cockfight, sex, drugs and other substances. But nowadays, the danger of newer forms of addictions is so much that we may have to post a signboard on our doorpost or desk: "Beware of addiction to TV serials/ mobile phone/ video games/ computer/ internet/ overeating!’’ When we become victims of addictions, we become incapable of loving others and fulfilling our family and social obligations. Like the lepers in Jesus’ days, who were banished from the society, we too become estranged from the love of our near and dear ones. Others may begin to treat us like lepers because of the scars created in our relationships and conduct. Thus, like the lepers in Jesus’ days, addictions make us personally, socially and religiously despised and rejected.
(3) Negativity: Suppose we are constantly and mercilessly pouring negativity (such as fear, hatred, anger, destructive criticism, resentment, revenge, jealousy) into our subconscious mind, it becomes a dumping ground for this negative stuff. All these negative emotions stored in our subconscious mind jump back and create negative currents in the form of impulses, urges, obsessions, bitterness, depression, sulking, etc. They also can create a great deal of tension and over-anxiety in us. Is it not true that negative thinking (especially when it becomes compulsive) makes our mind restless and impure? Does it not steal joy and happiness from us? Therefore, we are badly in need of a spiritual cleansing of our mind more than before.
We need to identify our own spiritual leprosy. Once we admit our spiritual and psychological leprosy, we can also follow the steps followed by this leper to receive holistic healing from Jesus: (1) to approach Jesus with the same humility by falling on our knees, confessing our sins before him and begging him to cleanseus; (2) to place our full faith and trust in his healing power; (3) to submit or surrender ourselves totally to his holy will; (4) to humbly beg him with our petitions to cleanse and heal us. We must allow him to touch our hearts. Just as he was deeply and emotionally moved with compassion within the core of his being at the miserable condition of the leper in his time, today also, will he not be moved at our sinful condition/ addictive behaviour/ negative mind-set and touch us? Deeply moved with compassion and concern, Jesus touches our hearts when we cry to him to be healed from our spiritual ‘leprosy’ – just as he did to the leper in his day by breaking the Jewish Law.
Secondly, if ever any of us has fallen into the trap of any of the addictions mentioned above, the healing process can become really painful and hard. It is only by undertaking a long spiritual journey of humble admission of our helplessness, placing our total trust in the healing power of Jesus and entrusting our life to his care with a cry, "If you will, you can make me clean," and begging for forgiveness from God and neighbours with a repentant heart,  we can be healed. By healing us Jesus restores us to a full communion with God and our community.
Thirdly, if we are affected by the poison of negativity, we need to continually plead with Jesus to purify our polluted minds and cleanse us from this poison. We should continually monitor our thoughts and forciblysubstitute every negative thought with a positive thought. We need to plead with Jesus repeatedly: "Lord, if you will, cleanse my negative mind-set."

As Jesus came to render holistic health, we should be concerned not only about physical healing, but also spiritual healing of our sins and its evil effects. He has the power to heal us from the possibility of
droopinginto depression, sadness, frustration and hopelessness when sometimes our physical ailments are not healed. He stands by us to help us accept our illness if it is God’s will. Just as the leper begged, we too can plead with him trusting fully in his healing power: "If it is your will, you take this illness or suffering from me; if not, let me take it; but just give me your grace." Besides begging for mercy, we must submit orsurrender ourselves fully at his feet and request him to do what he wants with us. Once touched and healed by him we too can proclaim our experience of restoration of holistic health (as the leper did in spite of being forbidden), which in turn will become a testimony of our faith.

This passage should motivate us to bring holistic health to those who are alienated, isolated or separated from God and human society due to sin, crime, addictions and any other wrongdoing. Giving human
dignityto those whom society considers outcasts and restoring their dignity should be one of our concerns.  Today, the conditions of the poor, the physically and mentally challenged, the victims of HIV and AIDS, the Dalits (in India) who suffer from untouchability and social segregation, etc., are like that of the leprosy patient of today’s gospel. Many people do not want to get close to these people. They refuse to stretch out our hands and touch their lives, as Jesus did. They do not want to take any risk to bring them acceptance. Like Jesus who had to become like a ‘leper’ (outcast) by healing a leper and could not go into a town openly, we too may have to face rejection if we ‘touch’ (deal with) this kind of people. Today’s gospel-message should motivate us to enter into the pain of such marginalized people and stretch out our hands like Jesus, or reach out to them with our service. Let us regret for the times we held back our hands instead of extending them towards such people.  

5.  Response to God's Word

What are the areas of uncleanness in our life such as habitual sins, compulsive habits, addictions, and negative attitudes that cut us off from God and community? Are there symptoms of addictions to TV shows/ mobile phone/ video games/ computer/ internet/ overeating such as total dependency on them and mental obsession causing restlessness when we are away from them? Do we consciously try to cleanse our negative mind-set? Do we follow the steps followed by the leper in today’s text to get a healing touch from Jesus? How can we reach out to the rejected, the despised and those who are cut off from community with our healing touch? Do we want to stretch out our hands towards social outcasts and underprivileged people, or hold them back?

6.  A prayer

Lord Jesus, I am an unclean person in mind and spirit. Kindly look at my miserable condition and show your boundless mercy towards me. I humbly fall on my knees and beg you to cleanse me. I place my full faith in you and trust in your healing power. I submit myself totally to your holy will. O Divine Healer, if you will, you can make me clean. Touch my heart; cleanse me and heal me wholly. Amen.

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