Saturday, 13 February 2021

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2021

WWJD. What would Jesus do?

Today’s Gospel should be read in the context of the First Reading. The Book of Leviticus laid out in detail what was to be done in cases where skin infections had been detected. As diagnosis was an imprecise science then, it required little for someone to be excluded. For example, psoriasis which we know now to be a common non-contagious skin condition, would have already triggered some forms of aversion or avoidance. Since containment is an exercise of self-preservation, isolation became the chosen cure for contagion. We may have advanced aeons in medical science, and technology, but in a sense, this practice of segregation is not foreign to us. An effect of the pandemic has been to quarantine out of fear that the disease will spread unchecked if we did not sequester those who have been infected. Of course, the aftermath of a Covid-19 infection is not as hideous as leprosy is, but the effect is nevertheless similar in that people have to be excluded. And in the case of leprosy, death is not just physical, it is social too. There is something about leprosy that causes people to shrink.




To understand why people draw back from leprosy is to pay attention to creation. It is orderly, structured and inherently beautiful. Translated, it means that physical integrity, that is, cohesiveness is an expression of creation’s harmony. In a manner speaking, what disrupts this stability or upsets this balance is sin. Leprosy’s devastating hideousness is a good symbol of sin’s ugliness.


Whether society during the time of Jesus was holy or not, the fact remains that people had an instinctive sense of what the holy should be like. As holiness is an attribute of God, there needs to be a divide between what is divine and what is profane. Whether the people live up to the standard demanded by holiness or not, they have an other-worldly perspective. Thus, the physical or physiological deformity of leprosy is considered to be the contamination of the profane, a sign of the corruption of sin. Heaven, because it is beautiful, has no place for ugliness. Thus, the expulsion of the leper is treated as a punishment for sin. The leper is to be excluded until he is made clean or restored to holiness or wholeness.


However, there is an internal contradiction in this approach to interdiction and integrity, to sin and restoration. This law of exclusion does not make sense because one has to remain excluded until one is made clean or restored to wholeness. How is one to be healed or restored to the community if one cannot be approached? Thus, the question at the start on what Jesus would do is answered by the account of the healing today. It is remarkable that Jesus allowed this leper to come near Him. In asking for a healing, the leper, who is already socially dead and may as well be physically dead, was symbolically expressing his faith in the Resurrection. He desired to be restored to life.


In other words, today’s Gospel shows Jesus entering into the realm of the sinful in order to save those who are brought down by sin. In so many accounts of allowing sinners to touch Him, we can already sense what is more than mere sacramentality at work. In the Incarnation, Jesus crosses the border from the invisible to the visible in order that the visible may have access to the invisible. While a sacrament is defined as the action of Christ done through the Church, it is more than that. The boundary which separates us from God is broken in such a manner that Christ effectively heals creation as it lays groaning and waiting for the Saviour. He does not save just by a fiat. Instead, He saves by taking upon Himself the burden of our slavery. The consequence of Christ’s touch is significant because the Sinless one now becomes the one impacted by the sin of separation. After the leper blabbered his mouth, Jesus took the leper’s place. The price of Jesus inclusiveness was His banishment. Indeed, He came to save, not to condemn.


This saving inclusion of Jesus is something which resonates with us. In fact, we can see that man’s history, by and large, has been a progressive record of social inclusion where we witness the gradual emancipation from the subjection of slavery to the sovereignty of self-determination. However, we have also arrived at a point where politics have invaded the theology of inclusion.


This politics is coloured very much by tolerance disguised as “inclusivity”. As Fulton Sheen used to comment on the development in the USA, “This country is not suffering from intolerance but rather of tolerance that makes no difference between right and wrong, truth and error, virtue and evil, Christ and chaos. The country is not nearly so overrun with the bigoted as it is overrun with the broadminded”.


The theology of inclusion must always be seen in the light of salvation. Jesus came to save, and He wants to save all. He is inclusive and the operative word in His inclusion is that we want to be saved and we want to be conformed to Him. The adulterous woman standing before Him is our standard for inclusion. She was supposed to be excluded on account of her sin, but Christ made no judgement about her sin except that the condition for her restoration, for her inclusion, was that she should sin no more.


Leprosy has become a curable disease now and for that, we have become “blind” because we can no longer fathom the “deformity” of sin and its effects on our souls. Still, Christ does not shrink from saving souls. The only shrinking has to come from us. Do we want to be healed? If we do, like the leper, only then will the reconciliation and restoration take place in our lives. Otherwise, inclusion makes no sense except that it makes us feel good about ourselves and could even canonise us in our sinful deformity. But nowhere will we be near to heaven which in the scheme of salvation is the ultimate expression of Christ’s inclusion.