Friday, February 9, 2018

OT VI [B] Lv 13:1-2, 44-46; I Cor 10:31--11:1; Mk 1:40-45  

Michael Wayne Hunter was put on death row in California in 1983, in San Quentin Prison. After his third year on death row something happened. One day he was getting ready to spend time exercising when the guard said, "You're going to miss Mother Teresa. She's coming today to see you guys." “Yea, sure,” he said, "one more of those designs they have on us." A little later he heard more commotion about it and thought it might be true, that Mother Teresa was actually coming to see them. Another guard said, "Don't go into your cells and lock up. Mother Teresa stayed to see you guys." So Michael jogged up to the front in gym shorts and a tattered basketball shirt with the arms ripped out, and on the other side of the security screen was this tiny woman who looked 100 years old. Yes, it was Mother Teresa. This hardened prisoner wrote about his experience, he said, "You have to understand that, basically, I'm a dead man. I don't have to observe any sort of social convention; and as a result, I can break all the rules, say what I want. But one look at this Nobel Prize winner, this woman so many people view as a living saint, and I was speechless." Michael said an incredible vitality and warmth came from her wizened, piercing eyes. She smiled at him, blessed a religious medal, and put it in his hands. This murderer who wouldn't have walked voluntarily down the hall to see the Warden, the Governor, the President, or the Pope, stood before this woman, and all he could say was, "Thank you, Mother Teresa." Now listen to what happens: At one point Mother Teresa turned and pointed her hand at the sergeant, "What you do to these men," she told him, "you do to God." The sergeant almost fainted away in surprise and wonder. He couldn't believe Mother Teresa had just said that to him. That day was
a turning point in the life of Michael Wayne Hunter. This San Quentin Death Row prisoner was cleansed by that experience. Life changed. Suddenly there was meaning to it. So drastic was the change, a new trial was set and the death penalty was not sought. The verdict was guilty on two counts of first-degree murder but a new sentence was given: Life. Life, without the possibility of parole. Prosecution did not seek the death penalty because Mr. Hunter was now a model prisoner and an award-winning writer. He is one other thing: A testimony that Christ still is willing to heal, still willing to touch the untouchable, and to make us whole.  

Today’s Scripture lessons teach us that the sick and the maimed are not to be objects of scorn, but potential reservoirs of God's mercy for us.  All three readings today contain the Christian teaching on the need for social acceptance even when people are different from us.  The first reading shows the ancient Jewish attitude toward leprosy and the rules for segregating lepers.  This provides a background for Jesus' healing of a leper.

By touching the leper, Jesus was defiled in the eyes of Levitical law.  The leper broke the Law in approaching Jesus, and Jesus in turn broke through the Law to reach and touch the afflicted man.  
Jesus could have been angered by the blasphemous religious explanation of the day that all leprosy was God’s punishment for grave sins. Jesus was also angry at the way lepers were treated as cursed creatures by the Jewish religion which sanctioned such inhuman treatment for lepers.  Lepers were not only considered physically loathsome but were looked upon as persistent sinners. Even if the lepers were cured, they had to submit to a ritual cleansing and purging of sin before they would be re-admitted to society.  By instructing the healed leper to go and show himself to the priest, Jesus may have been challenging the religious authorities to see that God’s healing grace is available to anyone who asks. 

Jesus risked becoming “unclean” Himself in order to make the leper clean.  Just as he stretched out his hand to the leper and touched him and made him whole, Jesus stretched out his hands on the cross to make us whole.  He touched the leper thus bridging the gap between what is clean and what is unclean, identifying himself with all lepers, with all who are ritually or socially unclean and isolated and with all of us sinners who are spiritually unclean and have no way to change our condition except through His sacrifice and mercy.  Thus, He became “unclean” in the eyes of the law that we might be made clean. He allowed himself to be rejected by his family and people so that those who are separated from God might return to him and be healed.

Jesus could have behaved as a severe moral judge, condemning the sinful; in fact that was what was expected of a prophet.  Instead he reached out in mercy to failures and outcasts.  He could have invented any kind of parable to say what the Father was like; he invented the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15).  Jesus reaches out and welcomes sinners while they are still in their sin.

We need to trust in the mercy of a forgiving God who assures us that our sins are forgiven and that we are clean.  We are forgiven and made spiritually clean from the spiritual leprosy of sins when we repent of our sins.  This is because God is a God of love who waits patiently for us.  No matter how many sins we have committed or how badly we have behaved, we know God forgives us.  The only condition required of us is that we ask for forgiveness with a repentant heart.  We need only kneel before him and ask him, "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean"

Jesus calls every one of us to demolish the walls that separate us from each other and to welcome the outcasts and the untouchables of society.   These include homosexuals, AIDS victims, alcoholics, drug-addicts and marginalized groups such as the divorced, the unmarried, single mothers, migrant workers and the mentally ill.  God's loving hand must reach out to them through us.   Jesus wants us to touch their lives.  Let us pass beyond the narrow circles of our friends and peers and try to relate to those who may be outside the bounds of propriety.   Let us breakdown the barriers we have created and approach God with a heart that is ready to welcome the outcasts in our society.  We all need God’s mercy to be healed, let’s ask the merciful Lord the same petition the leper petitioned: Lord, if you choose you can make me clean.

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