6th. Sunday of Year (B)
(Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46; First Corinthians 10:31-11:1; Mark 1:40-45)
The good of the whole, which the teaching in our first reading brings to mind, that is, the physical safety and human dignity of society, has unquestioned priority over individual ‘rights’.
Likewise in our second reading: the individual should, first and foremost, endeavour to serve God and the Church:
Do everything for the glory of God, avoid giving offence.
Thus far we can glimpse what is perhaps a fundamental characteristic of any God-fearing, any committed Catholic and Christian, human-being: a deep-seated, soul-satisfying, desire to give oneself to something greater than self, to some supreme and transcendent Good; indeed, to the Personal Good Whom we in Jesus are blessed and sublimely privileged to know as God our Father. To what degree that longing develops will depend first of all, on our recognition and acceptance of its presence in our mind and heart, and then upon our correspondence with the demands it makes upon us.
Holy Mass is the supreme offering mankind can make to God in and through His beloved and only-begotten Son, Who -- being God incarnate, that is, both perfect God and perfect man -- seeks to draw us to Himself that He might then be able to draw us with Himself to the God Who sent Him, His Father, Whom He wants to become ‘Our Father’. He sets out to do this, first of all, by His words and His teaching: the whole of the first part of the Mass consisting of prayers, readings from Scripture, and the Creed. He does all this that we might thereby be inspired and enabled to participate more intimately and fully with Him in His own sacrificial presence and Personal commitment on the altar and in our hearts, which is the sublime promise and ultimate purpose of the Mass.
People of God, do strive, pray, earnestly to understand and take to heart the teaching presented in the Liturgy of the Word at Holy Mass, that you might better love and unite yourself with Jesus’ very Person as He offers Himself to the Father for you, and gives Himself to you for the Father; for that teaching and that offer of Christ, together with your personal response and commitment, are the whole substance of salvation.
The offertory at Mass … bread and wine which earth has given and human hands have made … are words which show that our whole life and work, that is our whole being, is required to be involved. The offertory is, or should be, the time when we offer ourselves to the Father so that we too, just as the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, may be transformed ever more completely into living members of Christ’s Body, loving temples of the Holy Spirit, and children of God’s heavenly and eternal family.
What therefore, precisely, is salvation, the ‘work of our redemption’? Look at our Gospel reading:
Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out His hand, touched the kneeling leper and said to him, ‘Be made clean’.
For the Jewish leaders -- those public figures seen as learned and known as powerful -- leprosy was a sign of God’s punishment, and a leper was to be regarded as one damned and rejected, dis-owned, by God; and so, for them, those pathetic words the afflicted had to endlessly and loudly proclaim, ‘Unclean, unclean’, were necessary, not primarily to protect others against the degrading, flesh-eating sickness as God intended, but to protect ‘devout’ Israelites from incurring the contamination of legal and liturgical uncleanness!
Jesus responded, "Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: 'This people honours Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me; in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.' You disregard God's commandment but cling to human tradition. You nullify the word of God in favour of your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many such things.” (Mark 7:6-8, 13)
By what miraculous power or process did Jesus correct such distortions and heal this particular courageous victim at His feet? By the miracle of love! God’s divine love for us!! And indeed, the Greek verb translated ‘touched’ can also mean ‘embraced’, Jesus embraced him!
What actually happened on that day and at that very moment, was that Jesus -- in a real but initially symbolical way for our better understanding and appreciation of His future human life and destiny -- took the man’s leprosy onto Himself, in so far as the leper who had previously been obliged to dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp, was made clean, whereas Jesus, we are told in the Gospel reading, after His healing gesture, was obliged to:
Remain outside in deserted places, because, the man spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.
Ultimately, of course, and most literally, He would take our death upon Himself, to lift from off our shoulders the curse of our sinfulness and raise us up with Himself to a new possibility and experience of transfigured life.
Today, in our very sick and tormented world, we are the hands whereby Jesus is able to ‘touch’ sick, wounded, and needy humanity … and such contact is established whenever we try to do what Paul advised:
Do everything for the glory of God, avoid giving offence.
However, we should never be under any illusion that we can, of our own efforts -- least of all by seeking personal popularity, which many justify to themselves by imagining it will then ‘brush off’, as it were, on to Jesus Himself !! -- effect the changes needed; because, at best, we are but the hands whereby Jesus contacts men today, it is still His divine love and Personality which alone can make such contact salutary.
In total ‘opposition’ to modern popular thinking and politically-inspired teaching, therefore, we – as individual disciples of Jesus -- need to learn more and more how to forget those human rights accorded us by men, in favour of Jesus’ need for transparent and humble contacts with humanity today … and notice that St. Paul wants us to thus humbly serve Mother Church also:
Avoid giving offence whether to the Jews or Greeks or the Church of God.
How many however, grasp those human rights accorded by men to attack, or at least to give offence to, Mother Church and the world-wide People of God!! How many would politically accept such rights while denying the Ten Commandments; or would pretend that such rights give the truest and fullest exposition and understanding of God’s law. Can we recognize the difference between the two as Jesus so beautifully distinguished between the Pharisees’ understanding for their own purposes of those words ‘Unclean, unclean’, and God’s original purpose of love revealed in them and exemplified for us by Jesus?