by Fr. Tommy Lane
That poor leper had two sufferings to carry; not only was he suffering from illness but he was also cut off from the community. Lepers had to live outside the village or town in a sort of leper colony because of the contagious nature of the disease (Lev 13:46 conclusion to first reading). In the first reading (Lev 13:1-2,44-46) we heard the rules concerning lepers. When people were nearby lepers were to say, “Unclean, unclean.” The leper shouldn’t even have been in the village that day when Jesus came. Even when he approached Jesus the leper kept his distance. Jesus had to stretch out his hand to touch him when curing him. The man was not as courageous as the hemorrhaging woman who touched Jesus’ clothes (Mark 5:27). When Jesus healed the leper, Jesus not only healed his illness but restored him to his community and family once again.
Once upon a time there was a little old man. His eyes blinked and his hands trembled; when he ate he clattered the silverware distressingly, missed his mouth with the spoon as often as not, and dribbled a bit of food on the tablecloth. Now he lived with his married son, having nowhere else to live, and his son’s wife was a modern young woman who knew that in-laws should not be tolerated in a woman’s home. “I can’t have this,” she said. “It interferes with a woman’s right to happiness.”
So she and her husband took the little old man gently but firmly by the arm and led him to the corner of the kitchen. There they sat him on a stool and gave him his food, what there was of it, in an earthenware bowl. From then on he always ate in the corner of the kitchen, blinking at the table with wistful eyes.
One day his hands trembled rather more than usual, and the earthenware bowl fell and broke.
“If you are a pig, “ said the daughter-in-law, “you must eat out of a trough.” So they made him a little wooden trough, and he got his meals in that.
These people had a four-year-old son of whom they were very fond. One suppertime the young man noticed his boy playing intently with some bits of wood and asked what he was doing.
“I’m making a trough,” he said, smiling up for approval, “to feed you and Mama out of when I get big.”
The man and his wife look at each other for a while and didn’t say anything. Then they cried a little. Then they went to the corner and took the little old man by the arm and led him back to the table. They sat him in a comfortable chair and gave him his food on a plate and from then on nobody ever scolded when he clattered or spilled or broke things.”
We are meant for community, we are not meant for isolation. When Paul was wandering around Corinth he saw the pagan shrine to Asklepios, the pagan god of healing, and saw depictions of body parts on the wall that had been healed, an arm, a leg and so on. You might ask how could there be healings in a pagan shrine. An engineer by the name of Vitruvius, a contemporary of Jesus, has left us descriptions of these healing shrines and said you need two things for them - clean air and pure water - and if you provide these most people will be healed and you can give the credit to the god. As Paul wandered around this pagan shrine in Corinth, he obviously saw that a hand on its own looks weird, a leg on its own looks weird so Paul wrote in 1 Cor 12:14:ff “Nor is the body to be identified with any one of its many parts. If the foot were to say, “I am not a hand and so I do not belong to the body” would that mean that it stopped being part of the body? If the ear were to say “I am not an eye and so I do not belong to the body,” would that mean that it was not a part of the body?…God has put all the separate parts into the body on purpose…Now you together are Christ’s body, but each of you is a different part of it.”
We have been created for community and are called to live our faith in and with a community. Isolation and independence is a contradiction to Christianity. Every Sunday when we celebrate the Eucharist we celebrate as a community. Paul said to the Corinthians, “We though many form one single body.” (1 Cor 10:17) In community we are to make Christ real. Love is to be the characteristic of the Christian community. As Paul said to the Corinthians, “if I give away everything but am without love, it will do me no good whatever.” (1 Cor 13:3) Jesus said, “By this will all know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.” (John 13:35). That is why Paul could say in our second reading today, “Take me for your model as I take Christ.” (1 Cor 11:1) Everyone in the community is to reflect Christ. The Eucharistic Acclamation in our Mass today is, “When we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory.” That is also what Paul wrote the Corinthians (1 Cor 11:27). How can we say that when we gather for the Eucharist we proclaim Jesus’ death? When we gather for the Eucharist it is to be an act of love, reflecting the love in the community, because everyone in the community is to reflect Christ. If we gather for the Eucharist but do not love each other, our Eucharist is a sham.
Jesus healed the leprous man and restored him to community. We have been created for community and are called to live our faith in and with a community. “We though many form one single body,” and “by this will all know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.”
Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013
More related material for the Sixth Sunday Year B
Related Homilies: Father Damien in the leper colony on Molokai
Homilies on healing: Jesus Our Healer heals us through the Mass and Sacraments