Saturday 13 February 2021

Sunday, February 14, 2021 - Marginal people

To read the texts click on the texts: Lev 13:1-2, 44-46; 1Cor 10:31-11:1; Mk1:40-45

Satan stood at the foot of the cross and asked Jesus, "What happens now to the work you began?"

And Jesus whispered, "I do not need to worry, I have my disciples to carry it on!"

"Well, what happens if they fail you, Son of Man?" Satan sneered.

"I have no other plan," Jesus sighed, and then he died.

The first reading of today states, in very clear terms, why leprosy was considered such a dreadful disease. The term “leprosy” was used loosely for many kinds of skin ailments. A person with such an ailment was to be brought to the priest, who alone could declare the person clean. The leper was to wear torn clothes, have disheveled hair and cover the lower part of the face. These actions were also signs of mourning for the dead. This state of uncleanness was so serious that it was considered similar to the state of death. The cry of “Unclean, unclean” was, on the one hand, to warn others not to come near and, on the other hand, a lament about one’s condition because it was considered as divine punishment for serious sin. Living outside the camp was considered to be living in the place most removed from the presence of God, a place to which the sinner and the impure were banished.

It is in this context that the Gospel text of today must be read. The leper approaches Jesus as a suppliant and knows that Jesus can heal him. Jesus has only to will it and it will be done. The anger of Jesus means, on the one hand, that Jesus was angry about the fact that evil forces had taken such a hold of the man and so, the anger was directed against these forces. It also means anger against the establishment that ostracized persons and treated them as outcasts. The reaching out to touch the leper means that Jesus cannot be defiled or made unclean by touching someone considered unclean.  The reaching out also confirms that the anger of Jesus was primarily against those who would treat humans worse than animals. After the leper is healed, he is told to show himself to the priest, who would declare him clean and so, ready to resume his rightful place in society as a full human being. This indicates that Jesus was concerned with complying with the law. That the man is to do this, as “evidence against them”, seems to be polemical and directed against the unbelieving as incriminating evidence of their unbelief.

The world today is plagued by different kinds of discriminations. We discriminate on the basis of caste, religion, colour, language, social or economic status, and the like. It is to those of us who engage in such discrimination that the texts of today seem to be addressed. The ones who are discriminated against, and often, for no fault of their own, are those who, like the leper, are oppressed and outcasts. They are kept on the margins of society while the rest of us continue to live as if they do not exist. While sometimes there is an active shunning of these, at other times, it is done subtly, through indifference. We pretend as if they do not exist. By his reaching out and touching the leper, Jesus gives a strong message to all of us that no one is to be excluded from the love and mercy of God. No one is to be excluded from the grace of God that flows equally on everyone. No one is to be excluded, or discriminated against, simply because they speak a different language, or call God by another name, or are of a different colour, or social and economic status. Each and every person is a child of God and has the same rights and privileges as other sons and daughters of God.

This is exactly what Paul means when he challenges the Corinthian community to realize that they must do what they do for the glory of God, which, in its barest essence, means that they must not give offence to anyone.  In its profound sense, it means that they will never seek their own advantage but always the advantage of others. In this, they are to imitate Christ.

Jesus has no plan other than the one in which he challenges his disciples to carry on his mission of reconciliation, and reaching out, by imitating him.  He would want all who are willing to come, to be drawn to his Father, and would want to draw all, without distinction.  He would want all, without distinction, to be made whole. He would want all, without distinction, to share in the riches of God’s power and glory and unconditional love. Even as he draws those who are discriminated against, he also draws the discriminators, to make them see the folly of their ways and to realize that, when they make distinctions, they are losing out on the beauty of life itself and are living isolated lives, lives without meaning. These, too, are invited to open themselves to the magnanimity of God’s abundant grace.

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