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Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Homily. Readings: Leviticus 13:1-2, 45-46; Psalm 32; 1Corinthians 10:31-11:1; Mark 1:40-45.


Green Stole and Gospel
Readings: Leviticus 13:1-2, 45-46; Psalm 32; 1Corinthians 10:31 - 11:1; Mark 1:40-45


The Old Testament knew no remedy for the terrible disease of leprosy; in attempting to halt its spread to those who are healthy, it condemned the leper to the solitude of a hell-on-earth (First Reading). By contrast, in the New Testament, though leprosy was equally feared and beyond human remedy, it comes upon an entirely new, and decisive, fact: the fact of Jesus with his compassionate love for suffering and sinful man, and his power (Gospel). The same message was contained in last Sunday´s liturgy, where human ailments intractable in Job´s time are brought to Christ´s door for healing. It is he to whom we must turn (Psalm) and whom we must imitate so that the love of God may be made visible (his glory) (Second Reading).

Leprosy, with its repugnant and frightful effects – a rotting of the whole person, as it were, and the consequent social ostracism and alienation even from the closest and most beloved beings - is a parable of sin. Indeed, "rabbinic rules explained that the illness was caused by severe transgression of the law and forbade any sort of approach to a victim of the illness. If a leper approached other people he was to be stoned" (Von Balthasar).

Everything is changed with Christ. When the leper approaches, instead of stoning him he reaches out his hand, touches him, and declares him cured. Jesus is the New Man, in whom the power and merciful compassion of God abide, and who, in reaching out and touching the man afflicted with this awful and contagious condition - and sin is far more awful and contagious than leprosy - takes it upon himself in order to free us of it. For us he became a moral leper: "He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity, One of those from whom men hide their faces, spurned, and we held him in no esteem. Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured" (Isaiah 53:3-5).

Although "the leprosy left him then and there", this Jesus who was "moved with pity" still required of the man that he fulfill the ritual prescriptions of the law: "go and present yourself to the priest" – as the Church still requires of Christians in his name even if, possessing perfect sorrow (something we cannot trust ourselves to have), a person should already be in fact free from sin. Certainly, Jesus´ charge to the man is related to the old law; but the apostles clearly did not see it as foreign to the power to forgive sins they were invested with by the risen Christ (John 20:22-23). The sacramental economy, and its fundamental conditions, are not the Church´s invention: the sacraments would be quite useless were it so, for "only God can forgive sins". It is precisely because the Church has preserved intact the sacred trust of the sacraments given to her by Christ that they continue to be efficacious. To dispense with them would be quite the opposite of the compassion the Church must learn, not from the shortsightedness of the world, but from Christ.

Catechesis. There is a good foundation for a catechesis on the sacrament of penance and reconciliation, but that is perhaps better left to next week (see Eighth Sunday). One might instead take the opportunity to explain how the sacraments come from Christ and continue his work (CCC 1114-1121); or else focus on the basic kerygmatic proclamation that salvation is to be found only in Christ: "there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (CCC 1 and 430-435).

Personalizing the sacraments:
Jesus continues to reach out and heal his people today first and foremost through the sacraments. It is especially important in our time that we all to recognize Jesus´ personal touch in the seven forms that disguise his action to merely human eyes. An enlightened faith must lead us to experience it as a contact as vital and transforming as his encounter with the leper or with the woman who had a hemorrhage (Luke 8:43-48). Would our approach to Communion, or to the sacrament of Reconciliation, not be very different if we thought of it above all as a very personal encounter with the One who loves us more than any other?

Taking others´ sufferings on ourselves. On Molokai island (Hawaii), 19th century Belgian missionary Father Damian de Veuster insisted on remaining in a leper colony shunned by the civil authorities, and counted it his greatest day when, after years of serving and tending to his suffering brothers and sisters, he discovered the first signs of the still-dread disease in his own flesh. Christians make Christ credible by reproducing in their own lives his readiness to alleviate the pain of those who suffer even if it means taking it on themselves. To become more like Christ –the ´suffering servant´ of Isaiah- we need to become more like our brothers and sisters who are suffering and take their burdens on ourselves.