Homily preached by Br. Simeon at Blaxland on Sunday 15th February 2015:
SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY. YEAR B.
Gospel: Mark 1:40-45
A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.”
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
What comes to mind when you think of the word “clean”?
Clean house; clean up;
clean water; cleanliness is next to godliness; clean sweep; come clean; Mr. Clean; clean burning; clean oven; clean title; and so we can all think of many other examples of “clean”.
Well, today we’re talking about a different kind of clean. Today we’re talking about what it means to be clean inside and outside; clean not because we’ve rubbed and scrubbed but because God acting in Christ has chosen to make us so.
Our gospel lesson contains the short but powerful story of a leper coming to Jesus and making an unusual statement. The leper says to Jesus, “If you want to, you can make me clean.” Now what’s so unusual about this statement is that, for starters, it’s not really a request. The leper doesn’t “ask” Jesus to be “healed.” Instead, he announces what he believes — that, if Jesus chooses, Jesus can make him “clean.”
The cleansing of the leper is a climactic moment in Mark’s Gospel. By just touching the leper Jesus challenges one of the strictest proscriptions in Jewish society (today’s first reading provides the context for understanding the social and religious revulsion of lepers).
The leper is one of the heroic characters of Mark’s Gospel (along with such figures as the poor widow who gives her only penny to the temple and the blind Bartimaeus). The leper places his entire trust in Jesus. For him, there is no doubt: this Jesus is the Messiah of hope, the Lord of life. His request for healing is more than a cry for help -- it is a profession of faith: “You can make me clean.”
Jesus’ curing of the leper shocked those who witnessed it. Jesus did not drive the leper away, as would be the norm (the leper, according to the Mosaic Law, had no right to even address Jesus); instead, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. Jesus did not see an unclean leper but a human soul in desperate need.
Consider what Jesus does after healing the leper. He sends the cleansed leper to show himself to the priest “and offer for your cure what Moses prescribed.” This leper’s healing is a message for the Jewish establishment, represented by the priest: that the Messiah has come and is present among you.
We often reduce others to “lepers”—those we fear, those who don’t “fit” our image of sophistication and culture, those whose religion or race or class or culture threaten our own. We exile these lepers to the margins of society outside our gates; we reduce these lepers to simple stereotypes and demeaning labels; we reject these lepers as too “unclean” to be part of our lives and our world. The Christ who healed lepers comes to perform a much greater miracle – to heal us of our debilitating sense of self that fails to realise the sacred dignity of those we demean as “lepers.”
In today’s Gospel, the leper approaches Jesus with the words, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” The leper’s challenge is addressed to all of us, who seek to imitate Jesus. We possess the means and abilities to transform our lives and world — what is required are the desire, the will, the determination to do so: to heal the broken, to restore lepers to wholeness, to reconcile with those from whom we are estranged.
Jesus works his wonders not to solicit acclaim for himself but to awaken faith in God’s providence, to restore God’s vision of a world where humanity is united as brothers and sisters in the love of God. Jesus calls us who would be his disciples to let our own “miracles” of charity and mercy, of forgiveness and justice, be “proof” of our committed discipleship to the Gospel and our trust in the God who is the real worker of wonders in our midst.