6th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Year B.
Commentary Theme for this Sunday:
“Jesus And The Lepers”.
Jesus came to proclaim liberation to the poor and the outcast. One of his first miracles was to cleanse a leper, thus bringing the outcast back into the life of the community. With this act Jesus wanted to make known that nobody is to be sent out of, or excluded from, the new family that he has established. This is the theme of the Gospel.
The first reading prepares for the message of the Gospel as it shows us how the Jews treated lepers and reminds us how we treat those with AIDS.
The second reading can be connected to this theme since it tells the Christian not to look for his or her own personal interest but to seek the good of his or her brother or sister.
It is recommended that the actual readings are first studied and then meditated upon with a prayer to the Holy Spirit to grant you the gift of ‘wisdom’ to understand the meaning of the messages of Love, Forgiveness and the Offer of Salvation that the Lord has for each one of us in the Holy Bible.
These commentaries, which have been extracted and summarised for our meditation are from the published works of priests who have by their Divine inspiration become acclaimed scholars of the Scriptures and generally reflect the Church’s understanding of the readings.
These commentaries are not meant to replace the Sunday Homily at Holy Mass but are provided as an additional guide to assist and further enhance our understanding of the Sunday Liturgical Readings.
‘Daily Reflections’ and a Prayer are included to enable us to ‘Live the Word’ during the week following the Sunday Mass. We will begin to understand the meaning of gratuitous love and our life’s true purpose. Through His Word we will follow the Light to help fulfil the mission that has been given to each one of us by our Creator.
“Ignorance of the Scriptures is ‘Ignorance of Christ’.”
Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46.
Lepers were considered impure by all ancient tribes, and they were expelled from their communities for fear of contamination. Lepers were looked upon as disgusting, to the point that some tribes even provided separate burial places for them, refusing to lay them down close to the others even in death. The reading tells how the people of Israel dealt with the problem of leprosy. It was up to the priest to judge those who had contracted the disease and to order his/her separation from the community. Anyone showing symptoms of the disease was forbidden to set foot in the village and was forced to live in caves, forested areas or in isolation. People afflicted with such symptoms had to wear special garments for easy identification, and were not allowed to comb their hair, so as to be immediately identified from afar. If by any chance he or she came close to someone non-infected, they had to begin shouting a warning: “I am unclean, I am unclean!”
All these customs had been established as public health precautions to prevent contamination. But there was another more important reason that justified their expulsion from the community: they were considered accursed by God because of their sins. It was considered right that people should shun them since God had already punished them. Israel had considered that their community was to be made up of perfect men and women. Those with some physical defects could not be admitted to attend the holy assembly. The stricter groups applied this rule without exception: “Whoever has a physical defect in their body, has feet or hands paralysed, is lame, blind, deaf, dumb, the leper, the old ones who cannot stand on their own are not allowed to attend the assembly, because the holy angels take part in the assemblies of the people of Israel.”
We must pity the afflicted of ancient times. A variety of afflictions of the skin fell into the category of biblical leprosy; e.g. swelling, scabbing, discoloration, rashes and hair loss could all make one suspect of having leprosy. Imagine being driven out of town and away from your family and the life that you knew and loved because of mistaken diagnosis in the case of eczema being identified as leprosy.
The safety of the community was protected by the law, but not by the rights of an individual. Most people did not die of biblically defined leprosy. But they could die or at least languish in their separation from their loved ones. Life outside the community was haunted by hunger, and threatened by wild beasts. And then there was loneliness, which dilutes the will to struggle and survive.
The scorning and banning of lepers has now disappeared from our cultures (though not everywhere). The victims of this disease are no longer considered accursed by God and are not humbled and rejected. But regrettably we still have in our Christian communities people who, because of their character, defects or errors, are looked upon and rejected as ‘lepers’. Biblically defined leprosy still exists around us. Many people are estranged from the community, not welcome to sit at our tables. Identify the ‘lepers’ who are effectively outside of your community, and consider how to welcome them in.
This first reading shows us what the Jews thought and how they behaved with the lepers even at the time of Jesus. It also prepares us to understand the Gospel that will describe the healing of a leper.
Psalm 32:1-2, 5, 11.
Our God does not reject us. God always seeks to bring our alienation to an end, whatever form it may take: AIDS or leprosy, or simply falling through the net of an uncaring society. The most obvious example of such alienation is that which we call ‘sin’; and the Psalm for today knows very well that God can cope even with that grim reality: ‘happy is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered over’. Although this is one of the seven ‘penitential psalms’, the mood is predominately joyful. The psalmist finds joy in having acknowledged the wrong he has done: ‘I confessed my sins to you; I did not hide my guilt’. The psalm ends with a great burst of celebration: ‘rejoice in YHWH, you just, and be glad. Exult, you upright of heart’.
1 Corinthians 10:31- 11:1.
The exclusion of the leper was one way of protecting the community. Paul in (1 Corinthians) offers more positive methods. He has been dealing with the problem of meat sacrificed to idols. The Mosaic Law put great stress on food laws. Paul urges his listeners to turn from the latter to the real spirit of these laws. Food and drink must not be and end in themselves but a means to God’s glory (Rom 14:17). At the same time, each must be sensitive to the conscience of another. If some could not bring themselves to eat certain foods, then they were to be respected. For this reason, Paul declared he would never eat meat (8:13). He did not want his conduct to trip anyone up on his or her way to salvation. The love for a sister or brother may force one to renounce some of one’s rights. He concluded: if a certain behaviour, though legitimate, hurts others, then it must be avoided.
At the time of Jesus, leprosy was considered as bad as death. To cure a leper was like raising him from the dead. The priests could declare ‘pure’ a leper who had been healed, but they were unable to ‘make him pure,’ i.e., to heal him. The healing of a leper could only be the work of God (2 Kings 5:7).
In today’s Gospel we meet a leper. He had probably heard of Jesus’ power to restore people to health. After having lived many years cut off from his family and friends, new hope dawns in him. This Jesus, who had helped so many others in their needs, may be able to change his situation. The leper presents his request to Jesus and out of a deeply felt compassion Jesus restores him to health. Jesus then sends him to the high priest to be re-integrated into the community. It is at this moment that their positions change.
From being isolated from society the leper goes back to his people. Jesus who had been moving freely among people, is forced to withdraw and people must now meet him in deserted places. This miracle was possible because the leper had the courage to formulate his desire to Jesus. His desire meets the desire of Jesus for him. God wants to heal us but he is able to heal us only on condition that his desire for healing becomes our desire. Our desire for healing must first find a home and an expression in our own hearts. We must have ‘faith’.
Jesus does not impose healing; he respects our freedom. Jesus knew that the law forbade a healthy person to touch a leper. He could have pronounced one word and the leper would have been cured, but he did not. Instead he broke the law and touched him as he touched the mother-in-law of Peter. He showed us how important ‘physical touch’ is in physical and spiritual healing.
By Jesus’ word and action the man is restored to health. But Jesus especially wanted the man to be re-integrated into his community. Jesus respects Jewish Law and sends him to the high priest to verify the cure. If the priest had remembered the prophecy of Is. 35:1-10 (The Beatitudes of Israel), he might have realized that the ‘Messianic Age’ had come. By transforming suffering into joy and turning death into life, Jesus shows us that his coming is the beginning of the new world announced by the prophet.
When one feels like a ‘leper’ where does one turn for help? Does such a person approach the Christians of the community with the same trust that the poor and outcast felt as they approached Jesus? Today, in our society, the people who perhaps resemble lepers are mostly those suffering from AIDS. Often they are abandoned by friends and families. People judge and condemn them. Our community should imitate Jesus and take care of them, visit and touch them.
Maybe there was a time when you had been outcast and rejected for no good reason, whether racial, ethnic, sexual orientation, or for being slow-witted, then you will know from experience what the commentary is talking about. Jesus tells us not to put up walls separating us from those whom we feel uncomfortable with, but to rather reach out and touch whoever feels left out, no matter whom they are.
By touching, we say to one who feels excluded: ‘I care for you; you are not dead, you are alive and important to me and in spite of your illness or affliction, we love you’.
‘Acknowledgement and Thanks’ to ‘Recommended Source Material’ by:
Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, Fr. Fernando Armellini SCI, Peter Edmonds SJ, Richard Baawobr M.Afr, Joseph A. Slattery Ph.D, Adelmo Spagnolo MCCJ, Silvester O’Flynn OFM Cap, J.E. Spicer CSsR, John R. Donahue SJ and Alice Camille – Master’s degree in Divinity.
Reflections for each day this Week to lead us in the ‘Way, the Truth and the Life’:
Almighty God and Father, on the … of the week following the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B, we reflect on …
Sun. … In the first reading we see how it was up to the priest to judge and order the separation of a person suspected of being infected with leprosy from the community. Today it is many of us who make similar judgments on people who don’t measure up to our often-unrealistic standards. Have we ever considered the pain and the suffering we have caused by such alienation? Do we measure up to the standards by which we judge others because we will be judged by those same standards!
Mon. … Lepers were considered by the Israelites as accursed by God because of their sins. It was therefore considered right to shun those who were ‘punished’ by God. As Christians we believe that our God is a God of unending and gratuitous love. What possible reason could we give then for excluding ‘undesirables’ from our communities?
Tues. … Many people’s symptoms of skin disorders were incorrectly diagnosed as leprosy. As a consequence they were forced to live the rest of their lives in isolation. How often do we incorrectly judge people by our discriminatory and prejudiced standards? Can we begin to imagine the pain we inflict on others by our unfair assumptions and actions?
Wed. … The Psalm tells us that God does not reject us and always seeks to bring to an end all causes of estrangement? Jesus did the same in his ministry and in his teachings. Jesus accepted sinners, tax collectors and all those excluded from the community to his table. As Christians can we not do the same, without reservation? When we reject others are we not rejecting Christ?
Thurs. … Paul concludes his message to the Corinthians in the discussion regarding the consumption of meat offered up to idols; that even if a certain behaviour was legitimate, if it caused hurt to others, it must then be avoided.
Frid. … The miracle of the healing of the leper was possible because the leper had the courage to express his faith without any reservation that Jesus could make him ‘clean’ if he chose to do so. Jesus had the compassion to heal him; the leper had the faith that he would be healed. The desire and faith to be healed had a home and an expression in the leper’s heart and the miracle occurred. Could we ever engender such faith in our hearts? Do we need healing? Do we have faith like the leper?
Sat … Jesus tells us not to build up walls separating us from those we should regard as neighbours, but rather to reach out and make contact through a gesture of compassion and love. Let us from today follow Jesus’ way and turn this suffering world into a better place.
Prayer after the Daily Reflection.
Lord, when Francis of Assisi embraced a leper it became a turning point in his life. This gesture of love helped him to come to terms with his own prejudices. Grant us the grace to understand that when we embrace those we previously despised, we will discover what seemed to be bitter can be changed into sweetness of soul and heart and we will experience true joy and happiness as never before.
This we ask through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.
Compliments: Bible Discussion Group. Our Lady of the Wayside, Maryvale.
“Discovering the Truth through God’s living word”.