A snowed out homily on 1 Mark 40-45
by Joe Frankenfield
A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. He said to him, “See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.”
We usually focus on the healing when we hear this gospel,. The more important point, however, is God’s relationship with us. The healing is an incident from Jesus’ ministry revealing that relationship.
Jesus first loved the person afflicted with leprosy then healed him and finally he brought him back into his community.
To understand the significance of Jesus’ loving this person we have to understand that people who contracted leprosy in first century Palestine not only suffered a serious illness but were also exiled from the support and care of his family and neighbors. Living “outside the camp” as the Book of Leviticus phrased the law that exiled them out meant that the sick had to live without the community’s protection. This added serious physical danger to the already present suffering of sickness and isolation. By simply speaking and touching the man Jesus showed that, whatever the reason for it, Jesus refused to take part in such rejection.
Jesus didn’t wait for the spurned man to become acceptable before he reached out to him. He loved him as he was because beneath the illness and threat he saw the person. That made everything possible.
When we see how Jesus accepted people, we see how the Creator accepts us. God offers us much more than solutions to our problems. God offers us his love. God promises us union with him: a shared community of fulfillment that begins with our fondest hopes for life and moves from there past our imagining.
Every week a half dozen or so of us get together for lunch. One of the guys in the group likes to remind the others that “we all married up.” General agreement always greets his comment, especially, it seems, from those who are single. Stories then follow about what our wives have had to endure from us. It’s kind of our way of acknowledging what an amazing gift we have to be loved as we are, not as someone would like us to be.
When we did marriage preparation years ago, we tried hard to show the young couples that getting married is a process, not a momentary ceremony. It’s a gradual, life-long getting to know, wanting and giving ourselves to another person. The same can be said of lasting friendships. It makes great things possible.
Thinking About the Gospel
1st Sunday of Lent
February 18, 2018
The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him. After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
All of us know someone who used to be Catholic and has left, explicitly rejecting it or just quietly ceasing to care about it. We often understand the reasons they have for leaving and even sympathize with their decision. Still, there’s sadness at their departure, and even some confusion. Were we supportive enough? Were we welcoming enough? Did we make room for their individuality within the community? Were we forgiving enough of their failures and sufficiently honest about our own?
Recently a study of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University found that young people often leave the Catholic Church because they feel constantly judged. In my experience, that’s not an unusual problem for young adults; still, it’s certainly not one that a Christian community wants to exacerbate.
We don’t always do a very good job of conveying to others, even our children, what the Gospel really is. It’s helpful, as we begin Lent, that Matthew’s Gospel addresses the matter with simplicity. “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” It says. “Repent and believe the good news.” Though the word repent often confuses the issue, the central point is clear: the Creator of the universe is making real humanity’s long held dream. We need only trust in what the Creator is doing in us. The message isn’t a judgment, a threat or a test; it’s a promise. It’s a promise about God’s power and so a promise about our power.
The heartsickness that we experience at the way life goes need not be the enduring human situation. In fact, it will not be the enduring human situation.
Jesus didn’t have to lecture the inhabitants of Galilee about the mess that they lived with. Just like we, they were all too aware of the suffering and injustice plaguing them. The few who were rich and had power (the very few) could tell themselves that all was well but even they knew that it wasn’t. Like us, they knew in their hearts that regardless of how much food was on their table or how much money in their savings only the weak wall of good fortune and the flimsy buffer of law stood between them and chaos. In an unjust world no one outruns anxiety.
Jesus’ gospel, his good news, was that the Creator was at work. The Creator was at work in them. Repent and believe in this gospel mean the same thing. Put aside your hesitation. Trust God’s power in you. Rely on it. Make it the touchstone of reality and sanity for your decisions and actions.
“The time of fulfillment is now,” means stop waiting around for something to happen. God is already working but God does not force. We have to listen to God’s Spirit within us and follow her urgings. That takes faith in God. That is faith in God
It helps to remember that Jesus didn’t call people to believe something about God. He wanted people to invest everything in God, to invest their money, their security, their lives in him. Why? Because the Creator was totally invested in them.
During the last three days of Lent we recall in vivid detail the depth of Jesus’ commitment to people. He could have avoided arrest and execution. In fact, his closest friends told him in no uncertain terms to do just that. But he had dedicated his public life to announcing God’s commitment to humanity. He refused to betray that message by denying the word of God’s loyalty to the Passover crowds in Jerusalem.
This isn’t just the story of one man’s incautious, stubborn love for people. This is the story of our Creator’s incautious, stubborn love for people. This is the God on whom Jesus encouraged us to stake everything.
Go where God’s Spirit leads you? Don’t go where your fears would take you. How honest does God’s Spirit urge you to be? How merciful? How forgiving? How generous? Your real security lies in those urgings. Your Future lies in those urgings. Live with faith in them.
Repenting isn’t feeling terrible about past failures. It isn’t about promising God that we’ll never do them again the way we used to promise our parents when we got caught with our hands in the cookie jar or sneaking into the house after mid-night with beer on our breath. Repenting isn’t beating our breasts in remorse.
Repenting is changing assumptions:
I used to assume that my security and path to success lay through destroying my enemies and making sure that I got as much of life’s pie as I could without damaging my essential relationships. But there are movements in my heart that are dissatisfied with this strategy.
There is a Spirit in me that longs for something bigger, more open, more hopeful. There is something in me beyond my self and I believe that that something is divine. I believe that it will lead me into a Future I long for. I believe that it’s in others as well, even when I am unable to see it.
I want a future that is more than my past assumptions offer. I will follow the longings of the Spirit within me. I will trust that same Spirit in others. I will search for it and love it.
I will live for the Future towards which the Spirit urges me. I will drop the assumption that I can wrest what I need from the world on my own. I will bet everything on the Future of Loving. I believe that the Kingdom of God is at hand – at our hands – at the hands of God within us all.
This is the repentance for which we pray during this Lent. We pray it for ourselves. We pray it for one another. We pray it for all people of the world – whatever the language they may use to express it.
A last word about young people leaving our Church. The young pay close attention to our assumptions. They pay close attention to how our assumptions guide our actions. If they see that we assume that God’s Spirit is leading us to a Future built on loving justice, if they observe that we make our decisions united with that Spirit; they will realize that we have immersed ourselves in the Future they long to experience and be part of. They will come to see that we are united with, not critical of them. They will know that we see them as the next steps on the journey we and our ancestors have been treading: that we see God at work within them. We will have given them the gospel we’ve been given.
Please feel free to view any of our recent Scripture Readings here: