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Doctrines & Morals
 
 
 
Homilies/Reflections

Jesus and outcasts
By FR JULIUS OLAITAN

6th Sunday B

 

JESUS AND OUTCASTS

 

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in all ages, there have been diseases that inspire fear and strike the imagination as a result of their mysterious character, of their spread and of human inability to immediately discover the cause and cure of such ailments. If such a disease could cause disfiguring lesions or noticeable deformities, they arouse revulsion. It is worse when it is discovered that such a disease is contagious. This fear of contagion often result in the isolation if not complete abandonment of the victims.

 

Such was the case of leprosy for a very long time. The situation was further compounded by the fact that religion was linked to everything that happened to a person.  Good health was linked to holiness or uprightness of favour from God, while sickness was linked to sin and those living with incurable ailments considered to already be undergoing divine punishment.

 

We may look back now and consider such a behaviour as an archaic view of religion but even in our world today the difference is not much. Whatever the degree of sophistication today, may be social, or in the religious realm, the issue of suffering and death remain. What meaning can misfortune and disease have? Where do calamities such as disastrous epidemic, sudden or endemic, come from? Are they not always blamed in some ways on sins, understood either in the strict personal sense or in the wide sense of faults committed, voluntary or not, by human beings?

 

First Reading  (Lev. 13:1-2, 44-46)

 

The reading tells us about how the people of Israel dealt with the problem of leprosy.  It was the duty of Aaron (the priest) to determine after examination who had contracted the disease and to order his separation from the community. The person was considered unclean and must not be allowed to contaminate the rest of the community. Anyone with this disease was forbidden to set foot into the village while it lasted, and so were forced to live in caves and away from the community. They wore torn garments, they were not to comb their hair so that they can be immediately recognised from afar.  If by any chance they saw anyone coming their way, they must shout ‘unclean, unclean’.  These were precautions to help safeguard other members of the community, but the belief that such people were under punishment from God worsened their predicaments. In modern cultures, lepers are no longer so banished, or considered accursed by God, in fact religious groups have dedicated their lives to the protection of these sick ones; but the sense of isolation, rejection and abandonment remains.

 

 

Second Reading  (1Corinthians 10: 31-11:1)

In this passage, Paul concludes his long address to the Corinthians with the issue of food offered to idols. There was a problem about whether Christians should eat the meat sacrificed to idols or not, whether purchased in the market place or at the banqueting hall. Some felt that since idols do not exist, there is no reason why they should not eat whatever meat has been sacrificed.  Some other people feel it is wrong to eat the meat, since that is the purpose of the sacrifice. Paul agrees with the fact that it is not something wrong to eat meat sacrificed to idols, since they(idols) do not exist, but he also warns, that for the sake of the faith of the weak ones, it is better to abstain from it altogether. If we want to claim our rights all the time, there will be no peace. Sometimes for the good of others we cannot do all that is in our power to do.

 

Gospel (Mark 1: 40-45)

In our Gospel passage today we have the story of the leper who was cleansed by Jesus.  To be a leper was to be unclean, and to touch anyone or anything unclean renders one unclean too. This is not about morality. Touching of blood, the dead or certain illness renders one unclean and prevents such a person from entering the Temple which represents life—God’s presence in the midst of his people. Lepers were banished from the community as seen in the first reading. They were the ‘untouchables’ of their time, just like corpses—a contact with a leper made one unclean. For lepers, it was a cold, lonely existence. They had said good-bye to home, family, friends and all. Once, they were people to be reckoned with, but with the disease, that was all gone. Their continued existence was as good as being dead. That was the kind of man that came in contact with Jesus. He had risked being stoned to appear before Jesus. Here was a man who ordinarily was to shout ‘unclean’ to alert and warn passers-by that a leper was in the neighbourhood. But he was determined just to meet one person that he was certain will not reject him. Jesus took pity on him and disregarded the law that forbade anyone from touching a leper. While the law prescribed the isolation of the leper, Jesus overturned that and restored him to health and to the community. Jesus then sternly warned the man not to tell anyone but to go to the priest as required by the law. Who can remain silent after receiving such a gift—the gift of new life? How kind Jesus was to have had pity on him?

 

Many of us are afraid of the sick, the very poor and the very old.  We may give some money to the beggar, but most times we make sure that there is no contact between us. Yet we love to be touched ourselves. We sometimes fake illness so that we can feel the warmth of our loved ones who will be coming around each time to feel our temperature. Physical contact is precisely what gives people especially the sick and wounded, a sense of warmth and joy. It shows an acceptance of the person. But how often do we even look at faces before we shake them during the kiss of peace at Mass?  Imagine how good the leper felt when he was touched by Jesus. He got more than he had wanted. He told the story everywhere, to everyone who cared to listen. That is what our kindness can do to others.

 

Jesus went beyond just being a friend to the outcast to taking his place. Jesus therefore "could no longer openly enter a town, but was in the country..." In the final analysis, Jesus will take the place of fallen, broken and sinful humanity by being crucified in our place outside of town so that we may have a place with God. What an amazing grace?

 

There are people around us today who are still like those lepers living outside the village. Many sick people suffer isolation and abandonment even from their own families. They are not under any punishment from God. Will someone help them out?  There are others who are banished into our prisons languishing in jails, some without trials. The conditions of our prisons have been described often as overcrowded as there are more inmates compared to available facilities. Those in authority must do their best to give them a descent existence. Jesus calls us all to be kind to outcasts and those on the margins and to care about all in need around us. 

 

Let us pray: O God, we give you thanks for all you have done in our lives. Give us the courage to help others experience of your loving presence. Amen. May the Almighty God bless you, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen! 

 

 

 
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