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February 11, 2017 - Imitating the Out Stretched Hands of Jesus!

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time 

Scripture Readings

As powerful as the story of the healing of the leper is in today’s gospel reading, I want to begin with Paul in the second reading. Pauls says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ!” (1 Cor 11:1). Paul makes this statement as a conclusion to the question of believers eating food offered to idols by an unbeliever. This was a complex issue for the early Christians and it will long to explain it in this homily. The point I am trying to make is that Paul refuses a black and white answer. Rather, he says that he’d rather eat the food placed before him by an unbeliever so that he does not displease the unbeliever. On the other hand, if a believer would be scandalized by Paul’s behavior, he would rather not eat it. Thus he concludes, “… I try to please everyone in every way, not seeking my own benefit but that of the many, that they may be saved” (1 Cor 10:34). Paul imitation of Christ lies in this - that he does not seek his own benefit but of others, so that they might be saved. His imitation of Christ is not about saving himself. His imitation of Christ is that they might be saved!

That begs a question. What was Christ like? Let us pick up again from the story of healing of the leper. It is common knowledge that lepers were ostracized from society. Think about being cut-off from the rest of humanity, especially, from one’s own family. Moreover, leprosy was often considered as a punishment from God. Because of this, not many people had compassion for them. It was unusually bold, then, that a leper would come and kneel before Jesus. In doing this, he broke every religious and social law that was prescribed for lepers. He dares even more. He speaks to Jesus and begs him, “If you wish you can make me clean!” As far as the leper is concerned, a miracle just happened! Somebody cared enough to respond to him. Jesus went further. He stretched out his hands and touched him. Another miracle just happened! After years of disparaging, ostracization, condemnation, and pure disgust, somebody stretched out his hands and touched him. In doing this, Jesus discarded every law, bypassed every convention, and defied every commonsense practice prescribed against lepers. We could attribute the lepers behavior to his audacity. What, on the other hand, would explain Jesus’ response to the leper?  The answer can be found in Paul’s imitation of Christ - that Jesus did not seek his own benefit but that of others. The human person… sometimes rejected and disparaged, hurt and ill, tired and burdened, sinful and wounded… Jesus reached out to them. The leper was healed. Yes! There was a miracle. This is what Christ was like. This is the Christ Paul imitates. This is Christ Paul is asking us to imitate. 

Three practical implications.

  1. Imitate Christ in Stretching Out Your Hands. This is the second week in a row that we have Jesus stretching out his hands to heal. Last week we heard how Jesus stretched out his hands, grasped Peter’s mother-in-law’s hand and healed her. Today we heard the story of Jesus reaching out and touching the leper. Let me tell you my story. I was doing grocery shopping at Dots last week. The cashier at the counter asked me about my trip and how my dad was. I am not even sure how I responded, but she said to me, “Our prayer group has been praying for you every week. We know how difficult it is for you to leave your home and come back.” I had tears in my eyes! Then on Thursday, I was with another priest at a restaurant. When the time came to pay the check, the waiter informed me that someone had taken care of the bill. I merely gaped. These are just two instances where I feel Christ was stretching out his hands toward me. I would like to propose something for all of us this week. Let us imitate Christ is stretching out our hands… to bring comfort, to bring peace, to pray, to heal. As  a baptized people, the Spirit of Jesus Christ is within us. Could you and I be the presence Christ moving about in our town? Even as we, like the leper, kneel before God for our own healing, could you and I be the people who care to notice those who ache and are burdened? Could you and I be the ones to reach out the touch them? There are miracles waiting to happen through you and me! 
  1. It is about the Human Person. I said earlier that both the leper and Jesus overlooked the conventions and practices of the time for the miracle to take place. Here is a story I have for you. In Leicester, England, on Christmas day, Lee Williamson pulled into a bus stop to give a homeless man a blanket, hat, gloves, scarf, food, and chat to him. Meanwhile, a surveillance camera had captured his act. There was a problem. In Leicester, it is illegal for a car to pull into a bus stop. However, on Christmas day there was no bus service and Williamson knew that . Imagine his surprise when he got a ticket in the mail. The Leicester city council had fined him for breaking the law. They did not care that a homeless person was helped. They only cared that the law was broken. How symbolic is this of our times? It happens all too often the the human person gets sacrifice at the altar of legality. This the the precise nature of the present immigration and refugee debate in our nation. There are those who say, if the law is broken, then you pay the price for it. And then there are those who look at the human need. There are gut wrenching stories of deportations these days. The eight-hundred thousand young DACA recipients, the undocumented, the refugees, the homeless. these are today’s lepers. These are the ones who are being ostracized today. These are the ones living on the periphery right here in our city and in our parish. Yes, laws matter. But, there are times in history when the focus must be on the human person. An imitator of Christ cannot become like a cold and amoral surveillance camera. Rather, the call is to imitate Christ.  
  1. Imitate Christ in selflessness. Have you wondered why Christ swore his disciples and those he had healed to secrecy? This was because the idea of a Messiah had political implications. The Romans could prematurely end Jesus’ ministry. The interesting thing is that the more Jesus asked people not to disclose his identity, the more widely they publicized it. However, notice what happens as a result. Mark tells us that “It was impossible for Jesus to enter the town openly. He remained outside in deserted placed.” Does it strike you? Deserted places – that is where the leper used to be. The leper is now inside the community, but Jesus finds himself outside. Ultimately, Jesus was crucified outside the city and buried in a tomb where no one was buried. The greatest miracle in this story of the leper is that Jesus restored him to his family and society. Jesus did not seek his own benefit but that of others. This is the Christ, Paul is asking us to imitate. 

Every Eucharist is Christ stretching out his hand to us. Let us come to Christ like the leper. Let us kneel, let us beg, let us stretch out our hands to Christ during communion. May our hands touch. May there be another miracle today. 

Fr. Satish Joseph