B Cycle 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time 18
In last week’s gospel had crowds of people seeking to be healed by Jesus. People desperate with no other options available sought to be healed by the touch of Jesus. There were no other options available except to endure pain, blindness, isolation, and loss of dignity. They wanted to be healed and believed he could heal them. I wonder if those people had any other options would they have gone to Jesus to be healed. The fact they were desperate should tell us the answer to that question is no. They had already tried everything, including prayer, but seeing or hearing how he healed all who came to him was enough evidence for them. Jesus could offer them what no other physician or healer could offer, total and complete relief.
In today’s gospel we have a different scene; we have one lone leper who sought Jesus’ healing touch. It is interesting to note this leper by going into the presence of Jesus was in violation of the law “to isolate himself from others.” His choice was simple, obey the law and remain a leper or stand in front of Jesus and be healed. His desperation compelled him not shout out “unclean” as he approached Jesus but instead, he knelt before him and begged him to heal him. You should note his words to Jesus as he knelt before him – “if you wish you can make me clean.”
Jesus moved with pity responded, “I do will it – be cleaned.” The nature of God is revealed to us in this gospel scene for God’s approach to suffering is to eliminate it. Yet life has taught us not all suffering is relieved even when we have continually asked God in prayer for it to be relieved.
The power of Jesus on that day and today completely changes the person. It brings about a radical transformation of body, mind, and spirit. Over the twenty years of ministry, I have prayed with people who are desperately seeking relief from terminal diseases. I have been present during healing services offered by Fr. Ralph DiOrio and Fr. Francis McNutt and observed the miraculous healing of those seeking the power of God to end their suffering. These experiences have helped me reflect on suffering and the reality of pain and our response to it.
I have a friend whose first response to suffering is to embrace it and seek redemption from it. I will admit my first response is the opposite. I choose to get relief from it and pray for the doctors, medicine and Jesus to cure me of all that suffering. My experience tells me none of us have to actively seek suffering for life will deal us all the suffering we can ever imagine. Yet we continue to pray and we understand the words of Paul when he says “…whatever we have to endure, we must do for the glory of God… (I Cor. 10:31-33). So yes, even though God heals today we will continue to experience physical and emotional suffering. We must remember even in the time of Jesus not everyone who sought healing was healed.
Today we see this lone leper, seeking out Jesus. Where were the other lepers, with whom he lived with in isolation from the other people? Where they nearby, watching, and afraid to violate the law.
Leprosy is not a physically painful disease because it numbs the nerves so that a person afflicted by the disease cannot feel pain. Without pain they can injure ourselves, lose fingers, toes and lose protruding parts of their body as the disease progresses. We know pain is an essential part of the human body and when we it comes it is our alarm system alerting us to seek help because something is wrong. Pain in itself should be welcomed but when that pain goes on for years eating away at our bodies we like the leper cry for Jesus to heal us.
The greatest pain of the leper in today’s gospel was not physical but it was his separation from the community as dictated by the Levitical law (Lev. 13). Jesus’ touch was significant because it shows us love’s response to suffering is to touch it and remove it.
I have always found it curious that Jesus told the man not to tell anyone about his cure. He was cured. His leprosy was gone and he was told to go purify himself according to the law and present himself to the priests. Those actions restored him to his family, his friends and the entire community. Not to tell anyone had to be a tremendous burden and virtually impossible. He had to be bursting with joy. How could anyone refrain from shouting it from the rooftops, “I have been healed by the touch of Jesus.” Imagine the joy of his family, the celebration, the love expressed by touching, kissing, and dancing with those you love.
I can only speculate as to why Jesus would not want this healing not to be revealed at this time. This healing occurs at the beginning of his ministry, he needed some obscurity to proclaim the kingdom of God. His message was important not his healing. Jesus in his own words said he was to go to other towns and villages and proclaim the kingdom of God. He was revealing God’s love with every word and every touch. Even as he needed time, he could not refuse to offer compassion to those who were suffering. I think Jesus had a legitimate concern about this miracle for I saw the rippling effect of one person being healed had on others. The crowds grew greater at the next event. Auditoriums were filled with people who were seeking the healing and not the healer. We have a God who does heal and forgives and desires to make us whole. We also have a God who tells us “seek the Kingdom of God above all else and live righteously and he will give you everything you need”