6th Sunday in Ordinary Time (February 15, 2015)
Lv 13:1-2, 44-46
1 Cor 10:31-11:1
Leprosy has affected humanity for thousands of years. But how much do you actually know about it? It is mentioned in the bible often so I thought it’d be beneficial for us to know some facts. Leprosy takes it’s name from the Latin word lepra, which means “scaly.” It is a chronic infection that is actually not very contagious. The symptoms that develop include granulomas of the nerves, respiratory tract, skin and eyes with the primary external sign being skin lesions. Left untreated, it can cause permanent damage to the body. Thankfully, in our modern era, leprosy is very curable with treatment. In 2012, the new number of cases globally was 230,000, down from 5.2 million in the 1980s. Only around 200 cases are reported each year in the United States.
In biblical times, leprosy was seen as a punishment from God for a person’s sins. People thought it was highly contagious so they were frequently thrown out of the city. By separating the infected people, they were trying to stop the spread of the disease and to also keep the spiritually clean (the sin-less) from the spiritually unclean (the sinners). Alienation from the community was very painful since the Israelites had a strong sense of collective identity. So not only did the person with leprosy feel abandoned by their family and friends, they also felt like they were being punished and abandoned by God. Think about the emotional, psychological and spiritual toll this would take on a person. Put all of your bad days together and you’ll probably still not come close to the abandonment a person with leprosy felt in those days.
Close your eyes for a minute and imagine being that leper, separated from everyone. You are sitting on the outskirts of the city, abandoned and alone. You don’t feel loved and you are without hope. You are in a pit of darkness. But just when you are at the end of your rope, Jesus Christ, the Son of God walks up to you. You know who He is and what He can do for you. You look into His loving eyes, and beg for His help. You ask, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” His response, “I do will it. Be made clean.” Open your eyes.
Statistically speaking, it will be extremely rare for anyone in here to become infected with leprosy. However, there is a form of leprosy that has gotten wildly out of control in our culture. In one way or another, it has affected each and every one of us and is more contagious that the flu or the measles. What I am referring to is “leprosy of the mind.” No, I’m not talking about getting lesions on your brain…I’m speaking theoretically. “Leprosy of the mind” happens each and every time you sin. You see sin separates us from the community and from God. Habitual sin, sin that we do over and over again, can and will slowly change you on the inside which will eventually effect you on the outside. “Leprosy of the mind” is a slow eroding of one’s soul just as actual leprosy is a slow eroding of one’s body. The biggest difference between the two is that one is caught and one is chosen. Nobody chooses to get sick but when we sin, it’s because we chose to do it. We chose to distance ourselves from God’s love.
There’s a part of this Gospel story that I didn’t notice until a friend of mine pointed it out. The man with leprosy was all alone, probably on the outskirts of town. He approached Jesus, who healed him body and soul and was now allowed to remain in the city. However, this miracle spread so fast that Jesus was forced to leave the city. The Gospel tells us that Jesus “remained outside in deserted places.” Jesus Christ switched places with the leper. Jesus went outside, so that the man could come back in.
When else do we see Jesus switching places with someone? On the cross. Jesus took His place on the cross in place of you. He did it for the remission of your sins. He did it so that you could have eternal life. This is something we really need to consider as we begin Lent in a few days. God allowed His Son to die a horrible death rather than risk losing you for all of eternity. I don’t know about you, but if I were Jesus, suffering a horrendous, slow, painful death…I’m pretty sure I would have hopped down off of that cross at the first sign of pain and ascended up to Heaven. But thankfully, Jesus stayed put out of love for you.
So what does the healing of the leper have to do with Jesus on the cross? It is God’s will that you follow Him and spend eternity with Him in heaven. Jesus desires to heal you…body and soul. So much so that He’s willing to switch places with you when necessary. But, out of love and respect for you, He’s not going to force Himself upon you. You have to ask and invite Him in. Just like how the leper approached Jesus and asked Him for healing, you too need to approach Jesus and ask for healing…in the confessional.
I can think of no better place to ask for God’s healing hand to mend your soul than through the sacrament of reconciliation. I’ve heard many people argue that they can confess their sins straight to God and don’t need a priest. Scripturally speaking, that is an inaccurate statement, which I’ve save for another day. Practically speaking, it takes a great act of humility to confess your sins out loud to another person. Plus, when we go to confession, we are confessing our sins to God. It just so happens we are doing it through one of God’s priests who is sitting in the place of Jesus. When Jesus walked the earth, only He could forgive Sins. But before He ascended to heaven, He turned that authority over to His Apostles and eventually His priests.
If the idea of confession gives you cold sweats and knots in your stomach or you aren’t sure what to confess, do me a favor and close your eyes one more time. Now picture yourself sitting in a small room on a chair with your eyes closed. The room is dimly lit and there is complete silence. In front of you, about three feet away, sits Jesus silently waiting for you to start the conversation. So you open your mouth and in a sincere voice say, “I’m sorry for all the times I completely ignored you and chose to go down the wrong path. I’m sorry for all the times that I’ve sinned since knowing you. I’m sorry for putting myself first, time and time again. I’m sorry for all the times when I didn’t love others the way you have shown me love. I’m sorry for not spending more time with you in prayer. I’m sorry for not being the person that you made me to be. And I am so incredibly sorry for when I…” and you continue to speak your sins out loud, without fear or hesitation. Open your eyes. When you are done speaking, the priest, sitting in the place of Christ, extends his hands over your head and speaks the three most powerful words that every soul desires to hear…. “I absolve you.” In other words, “Be made clean.” Confession is that simple. It just takes enough courage to walk through the confessional door and start speaking from the heart.
Last week Father Noel challenged you to invite a friend to Church during Lent. My challenge for you this Lent in simply this…go to confession. If you’ve been to confession in the past two weeks…awesome…don’t be afraid to go back often. If it’s been a week, a year, a decade or even longer…no more excuses! Just go. Jesus healed the leper and it’s His will to heal you as well.