6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B.
Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46 – 1Corinthians 10:31 – 11:1 – Mark 1:40-45.
In a video produced back in 2015, Dr Amy Arrington (an associate medical director of the Special Isolation Unit in the Texas Children’s Hospital) demonstrated the preparedness of the hospital in general and of the unit in particular to respond to the outbreak of an epidemic in children. She described the sophisticated isolation and security measures in the unit, and emphasised the heightened level of protection in place for the doctors, nurses and support staff while they were working in the unit.
From that video, I got a snapshot of how vital isolation and quarantine are in those circumstances, especially in tackling and controlling infectious and contagious diseases. Indeed, these measures help to protect the general public by preventing further exposure to people who have contracted a notifiable disease, or who have come in contact with family members or colleagues who have been diagnosed with one. At the same time, however, those who find themselves necessarily isolated or quarantined during an epidemic have to undergo separation from family and loved ones.
This picture can be helpful to us today as we reflect on the readings. In the same way that information about what we have to do during this pandemic is passed along to us through Government briefings and NHS guidelines, Moses (in the 1st Reading) issued instructions to the people about what they had to do when they suspected signs of a communicable disease in general and leprosy (Hanson’s disease) in particular. The instructions specified obtaining a diagnosis from a professional who was qualified to give one, in this case a priest. The sufferer was to be quarantined for observation, and if a case of leprosy was subsequently confirmed, then the leper was to be declared ‘unclean’ and isolated from the community. Quarantine and isolation have long been practised as means of protecting the wider community from contracting infectious or contagious diseases. Every leper became an outcast from society, had to live outside the camp, and had to identify their status as ‘unclean’ by making themselves look deliberately unkempt, masking their mouth with their hand and indicating that people should observe social distancing. Well, I can see that we have adopted and modernized this practice in our response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the Gospel reading, however, we see a leper breaking the protocol. He knew who Jesus was because He had been going around healing many people, including lepers. This leper must have thought, “If Jesus can heal others including lepers, then it’s not going to be possible for me to infect Jesus, so I can safely go to him and ask Him to heal me too.” I see this man going to Jesus with faith that He can effect a cure. I feel how lonely the leper had been for such a long time, and the terrible conditions in which he had lived until he heard about Jesus. We are told that, when he went to Jesus, He was moved with pity. Jesus STRETCHED OUT HIS HAND and TOUCHED HIM and healed him. The words I’ve highlighted are important: for someone who was not allowed to interact with others and whom nobody was supposed to touch, it was only Jesus who could break that yoke of separation and bring him healing. “Praise God for healing!” God is Love and He has compassion on those who come to Him in their need, those who recognize that He is their hope for life when they are down, infirm, sick and lost.
What else do you think that the world needs to be healed of right now? We are all aware that the world is being ravaged by the pandemic, and that we all need Jesus to heal us physically, mentally and spiritually. We come to Jesus with absolute trust and confidence in his power to heal and save us, and we pray constantly for His healing because the pandemic has really taken its toll on people. Besides Covid-19 there are other things that destroy people, and of which they need to be healed as a matter of urgency: sins, addictions, bad habits, vices, wrongdoing, immorality… these and a multitude of other negative influences, each one of them more destructive than a virus, have burrowed deep into the fabric of society and have led to moral degradation and lukewarmness in spiritual matters.
The world has grown spiritually sick from a pandemic of sinfulness, depravity and ungodliness. The world needs the healing touch of Jesus now more than ever. Each of us needs Him to reach out to us, to touch us and to make us whole. That can only happen when we have recognized and acknowledged that we are flawed human beings, that we are flawed by sin and that we are guilty of sin, that spiritual leprosy is eating its way deep into us. We need to come to Him of our own volition, as did the leper, in full acceptance of our frailty and sickness.
St Paul tells us in the 2nd Reading that, “whatever you do at all, do it for the glory of God”. Glory be to God that sinners are reconciled to him. It is in order to give God glory that we move beyond helping ourselves to helping others self-isolating from God because of their sin, their spiritual lukewarmness, their life of ungodliness and their deliberate disbelief. Christ’s way is to reach out to those who are sick, weak, and far from God (Mk 2:17; Lk 5:31). That is why St Paul urges us to imitate him, as he imitated Christ. St Paul was healed (converted) by Christ when he was in sin and error, and in gratitude he went out across the known world to heal others. If we are healed by Christ, and if we accept our duty to imitate Christ the Lord, then we ought to take an active part in the healing of the contemporary world. Whenever we encounter sinners, instead of concentrating on isolating them (so as not to be infected spiritually by their lifestyle), we ought to make every effort to bring them the healing word of God, the power of God’s love for us to save all sinners for which Jesus died on the Cross (Rom 5:8). We need to stretch out our hand and touch the broken-hearted, the sinners and the infirm with His love for His sake.
May God help us to identify our personal weaknesses and sins, to get up and go to Him and ask Him to heal us. May we be thereafter His instruments to help others to realize their urgent need for God. Amen. God bless you.