HOMILY Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle B February 11, 2024
In this section of Mark’s Gospel we see Jesus performing a lot of healing
miracles. We saw that in last Sunday’s Gospel. St. Mark is showing us Jesus’ POWER.
And now Jesus tackles the difficult case of leprosy.
Our Gospel is somewhat confusing. Scripture scholars believe that today’s
passage from St Mark is a combination of two different stories that may have
circulated about the same event. At
first in our Gospel Jesus is very gentle.
When the leper approaches and makes his request, Jesus is filled with
pity. The compassion of Jesus shows
“Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said
to him, "I do will it. Be made clean."
But then Jesus suddenly becomes rather
stern and abrupt. We hear “Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him
at once.“ The poor guy just got healed of a terrible
disease. Why is Jesus so stern and
impatient? // Scholars think this was part of an
exorcism story, and Jesus is addressing, not the poor man who had leprosy, but rather
the evil demon of leprosy, and casting it out.
In the Greek, to dismiss is to cast out.
This is exorcism language. The
order Jesus gives to keep silent is just like what Jesus tells the demons he
casts out to not speak, to keep quiet.
So scholars believe it is with the demon of leprosy that Jesus is stern
The word translated as “warned him sternly” literally means to snort, like a warhorse in a battle. It means to grunt with exertion. The imagery is one of a fight. Jesus groans, or grunts, in His struggle with the demon. This is not a sham fight but a real struggle. Jesus fights and overpowers the demon. It sounds strange to our ears. //
God is angry at evil. This is not a milk-toast God, but a champion
who fights against oppression, death and evil.
God in Jesus is powerful. As it is said of Aslan the lion in the
wonderful book, The Chronicles of Narnia, “He is not a tame lion.”
The same is true for us. Sin is very like leprosy. It separates us from other people, puts us at
conflict with others. Sin destroys
harmony and community. Pride, greed,
lying, selfishness, envy, licentiousness are all destructive of community. Sin also eats away at us, destroying us. Therefore, often in the Gospels leprosy is a
symbol for sin.
Just as Jesus approaches the leper in the Gospel today with compassion and pity, so Jesus also approaches us when we come to Him seeking healing, seeking forgiveness. Jesus is also powerful enough to overcome the evil, to dismiss it, to cast it out. Jesus both desires to heal us, and is strong enough to do so. We sinners are the leper in the Gospel today.
Finally, there is a strange reversal of roles in the Gospel. The leper begins the story separated from community. He is condemned to “live apart”, outside of the towns.
pity on him and heals him. Now the leper
is re-integrated into community. He no
longer has to live apart. But Jesus,
because of this healing, now is Himself forced apart. St. Mark states: “ it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted
places,…” The roles are reversed. Jesus must now dwell apart.
What had been the situation of the
leper has now fallen on Jesus. Is Mark
alluding to the fact that Jesus saves us by taking on Himself our guilt? I am not sure, but the shadow of the cross is
always present, always lurking nearby in Mark’s Gospel.
What does all this say to us? Well, the result of all this is: “God does
not fit into our little categories.” God
is God, we are not.
However, unlike the evil demon of
leprosy, we have not been told to
keep silent. Quite the opposite. Jesus has now completed His salvific work and
risen from the dead. He has commissioned
us to evangelize, to spread the Good News which is the Gospel. By our words, and more importantly by our
works, we are “to publicize the whole matter” of what God has done for
us in Jesus Christ. AMEN.