Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Leprosy of the Human Heart

February 15, 2015 –– 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Leviticus 13:1–2, 44–46 / 1 Corinthians 10:31–11:1 / Mark 1:40–45
The Leprosy of the Human Heart

Leprosy was a big deal in Bible days. It was a seriously gross illness that could slowly rot a body even as the person lived in it. It is an awfully perfect analogy of sin, and there is a figurative application in the many Old Testament texts that deal with it.

Leprosy would separate a person from society. There could be no contact with others, even family. Someone could go months or years and never be touched. Imagine having to go through life yelling out to others to avoid you while identifying yourself as Unclean!

If only we could truly see that this is what sin does to us, but our modern and tech-driven society has found innumerable ways to insulate us from the immediate repercussions of sin. We live in a world that celebrates immorality of every type: financial and physical violence as well as sexual. We do see the world around us hurting and unravelling, but most people cannot––or will not––make the connection with disobeying God. Sin is making our whole existence dangerously unclean.

The leper that came to Jesus to be healed knew what the stakes were. He knew his situation was hopeless. There would be no natural healing. He would live the remainder of his life with a hideous deterioration of his body and then die an awful death.

But there was Jesus…. This man had heard of him somewhere… With nothing to lose he proclaimed the words of faith: If you wish, you can make me clean. The love of God is always wanting to save. Do we want to be saved? Sin blinds us so that we do not really believe we need to be saved. We can easily assume, “I’m not that bad.” The only people God cannot save are those who do not desire it. We have to want what God wants.

This leper wanted the gift of God. The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. Jesus said to tell no one. (Jesus was not seeking the notoriety that later sent him to his death.) Still, the man went away and began to publicize the whole matter.

What would you do? Suddenly your whole life had been restored. You were not going to rot away. You could go back to your family. You could embrace your spouse and hold your children or grandchildren close. Your whole existence…. given new life.

The most vibrant Christians are those who really know something of what it means to be saved from the horror of helplessness and hopelessness. In another Gospel story, Jesus told his host: whoever has been forgiven little loves little (Lu 7:47). If our love for the Lord seems too little, we can ask the Lord to let us see the “leprosy” that afflicts human hearts.

This is how to understand the Apostle Paul. When we read his letters it is obvious that Paul is totally taken with Jesus Christ. Paul knew that Jesus was his Savior. This is why he tells the Corinthians: whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.

We are not given the rest of the former leper’s story in the Gospel. We might imagine him going into the horizon leaping into the air and saying Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! I have no problem believing that he lived the rest of his days do[ing] everything for the glory of God.

Can we ask the Lord for the grace to do the same? It might first mean taking an honest look at the leprosy of our own hearts so that we see how badly we need to be healed.

If we do that, we can say the same thing to Jesus: If you wish, you can make me clean.

If you truly want that, Jesus will do it. He is the Savior of the world.

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