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Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time 2018

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Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time/ “Jesus Our Suffering Servant”         

How can you understand?  You are not like me.  If we were honest, we would probably say this is thought that we often have about God.  How can the creator the of the world, the all powerful one, understand my feelings of pain, loneliness, insecurity, disappointment?  God has got to be too big for that. Someone once speculated that this is why Jesus came into the world to respond to that thought.  God understands because God became a vulnerable human being.

            The Gospel today, emphasizes that fact.  Leprosy is a very scary disease for many reasons.  Physically, the progression of the disease is slow.  Leprosy begins with a scaling on the skin.  Parts of the body become numb.  Infections happen in the extremities that often call for amputation.  Breathing is labored.  Also, there is a lack of energy.  It can take years to die. 

            In ancient times there was another complication, which was, that many skin diseases were thought to be leprosy.  Sometimes people were thought to be leprous who had acne.  Psoriasis was often thought to be leprosy.  Perhaps this explains why there were provisions in the Mosaic law which allow for people to present themselves to the priests when they thought the leprosy had gone away.  We have numerous examples in the Bible where people are lepers for a brief period, but then the leprosy disappears.  Moses had that experience in Exodus 4.

            We could make an argument that what is more distressing then the physical suffering of a leper was the social isolation they had to endure.  We hear about it in the first reading from Leviticus.  Because people did not know how leprosy was spread, lepers were expected to live apart in leper colonies.  The lepers had to leave their families until there was a cure or until they died.  Can we imagine contracting a serious illness, but then having to endure the sickness without the support of family and friends?  Is it any wonder, that lepers were referred to as the living dead.  If someone to happened to touch a leper, they were considered unclean for a time.  Because they were, they had to live apart also, so lepers were shunned.

            Jesus, as we read in the Gospel, cures the leper, but that is not the end of the story.  He helps the leper, but the leper does Jesus no favors.  The leper does what Jesus asks him not to do.  He tells about the encounter with Jesus. Why did Jesus tell the man not to share the story of his cure? Many reasons are given.  One possibility is that Jesus knew his contact with the leper would render him unclean.  People would hear of his contact with lepers, so they would avoid him, fearful of contamination. 

            Jesus, in effect, changed places with the leper.  Jesus became the one who was avoided.  He endured the social isolation.  Jesus understood what it was to become a leper because he became a leper himself.  We could ask the question, was that way with all Jesus’ cures?  Did he absorb the pain of others? Was there a cost to him?  Or, did he just cure someone and leave?

            A few years ago, there was a movie called “The Green Mile.” The movie revolves around the experiences of guards and prisoners on death row in a prison. In the movie, there is a Christ figure, a prisoner named John. Through a series of different events it is discovered by the guards that John can heal others. He heals a guard of a urinary tract infection.  He cures a woman of cancer.  But the interesting thing is that each time John cures someone he seems to get sick himself.  He suffers the effects of each person’s disease. John’s healing gift does not come without a personal price.  He must be willing to suffer like person he cures.

            Thoughts of this makes Jesus’ miracles more impressive.  Jesus healing gift did not come without personal cost to him.  But he was willing to pay the price. 

          John Shea wrote a poem reflecting on the cost Jesus paid for healing, he asks:

           When crutches were thrown away

           did Jesus limp

           after the running cripple?


           Did his eyes dim

           when Bartimaeus saw?


           Did life ebb in him

           when it flowed into Lazarus?


          The gospels say

          Jesus felt power go out from him

          but neglect to say

          whether pain came in.


         Did the Son of God

         take on ungrown legs and dead eyes

         in the terrifying knowledge that

        that pain does not go away

         it only moves on?


            In answer to the question that started this homily we would have to say that God might understand our pain more than we can ever fathom.