Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time in Year B 2021 at St Joseph’s Centre for Reflective Learning, Baulkham Hills
Readings: Lev 13:1-2,44-46; 1Cor 10:31-11:1; Mark 1:40-45
13 February 2021
The courage to stand with the outcast and challenge exclusion
Pope Francis has not always been a popular figure, both inside and outside the Church. This is quite obvious when it comes to his stance on the marginalised. In fact, in his most recent book, Let Us Dream – The Path to a Better Future, he doubles down on his call for new politics of fraternal communion.
Making a case for the forgotten, the excluded and the oppressed minorities, the Pope ranges over the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar and the Uighur Muslims in China, the struggles of the Black Lives Matter movement in America, and the ongoing ‘pandemics’ of hunger and violence and climate change. If we are truly to emerge from the ordeal of COVID less selfish than we went in, he writes, we have to let ourselves be touched by others’ pain.
Scriptures this Sunday also inspire us to be the wounded healers after the example of Jesus. He was not afraid to stand with the marginalised and to call out exclusionary attitudes and practices.
The Gospel tells us the story of Jesus’ encounter with the leper, which is situated among other healing stories. He has healed the demoniac in the synagogue, Peter’s mother-in-law in her house and many other sick people throughout all Galilee. He has presented himself as a healer, a champion of the masses and a preacher with authority. In his words and actions, people feel the power of the God of the Covenant and the presence of God’s reign.
The leper story, however, moves Jesus’ intents and purposes to another level. It shows that more than concerned with the individual’s wellbeing, he is not afraid to confront the discriminatory and exclusionary practices based on ignorance and prejudice. This ignorance and prejudice is codified in the Book of Leviticus.
Accordingly, leprosy is the ultimate curse. It renders the person unclean physically as well as spiritually. The leper is condemned to a life of shame and harsh social isolation. The first reading gives us a brief but revealing description of how lepers are treated or mistreated in Israel. Simply put, they are condemned to a brutal existence.
By reaching out and touching the leper, Jesus breaks ranks with his contemporaries. When the leper approaches him, Jesus responds with a respect that simultaneously acknowledges the man’s dignity and critiqued society’s exclusivism. Jesus does not just heal the man, but he shows how an alternative social system operates. Jesus’ touch is a sacrament of healing, a sign of communion and a declaration that this man is fully capable of giving witness to God’s activity in the world.
After being cured of leprosy, the man was told to go to the priest so that he could be readmitted into the community. Even though he had performed the healing outside the temple system, Jesus did not stop at the personal level. As he did to the woman who had touched him and found herself healed of her haemorrhage, Jesus was interested in confronting injustices towards the vulnerable. By commanding the man to go to the temple, he challenges the community to examine its attitudes and practices in respect of the marginalised and the outcast. The healing of the leper moves from the healing of a sick individual to the healing of a sick society.
Brothers and sisters,
The message of the Gospel is that we cannot be disciples of Jesus and fail to address injustices against God’s poor and vulnerable. Discipleship is a journey that demands moral courage because it forces us to abandon security in favour of vulnerability, self-interest in favour of passion for justice and compassion for God’s poor. Jesus shows himself to be a boundary breaker. He constantly goes beyond the borders of every kind and affirms the humanity of those who are marginalised out of fear and ignorance. In so doing, he invites us to step beyond our fears and to expand the boundaries of our love.
Let us learn from Christ who immersed himself totally in the coalface realities of pain, suffering, isolation and condemnation that many experience. It is that precarious existence where the true cost of our discipleship is counted, because we dare to walk with the lepers of our time, just like Jesus did before us. Ultimately, we are challenged to prod at our own sense of security and to stretch our capacity to love. For that is where the God of solidarity calls us to be. May we learn to walk with the God of love, inclusion, and compassion, as we endeavor to make His kingdom a reality in the world.