Weekly Reflection (14 Feb 2021)

6th Sunday Year B

Leviticus 13:1-2,44-46
1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1
Mark 1:40-45

If you judge people, you have no time to love them.

Leprosy was a much-dreaded disease in Biblical times. It was highly contagious and there was no cure. As the disease progresses, the victim lays helpless as disfigurement and paralysis set in. With the world grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic today, we can fully appreciate how leprosy stroke fear in the people’s heart in those times. The First Reading this week describes the diagnosis process and subsequent social distance measures imposed on the leper (verse 2, 44-46). Once diagnosed, the leper becomes a social outcast living away from the community; he would wear torn clothes, kept his hair dishevelled; and cry out “unclean, unclean” to warn others of his presence so that others may stay clear. As harsh as these measures may sound, we can appreciate the rationale behind them, especially in those days of limited medical resources and hygiene capabilities.

Added to the practical considerations of containing a communicable disease is the Jewish belief that misfortunate befalls on a person because he/she is a sinner. Hence, if a person contracts a dreaded disease such as leprosy, as reason goes, that person must have committed sins and is therefore unclean. That is why rather than crying out “leprosy” or “infected”, the person cries out “unclean”. And anyone who touches the leper is also considered unclean. In this way, the leper is ostracised by the community and lives apart from the community.

Today, with modern medical science and hygiene practices, a person with a communicable disease no longer needs to leave apart from the community. However, for those we deem to have committed grave sins, the stigma we attach to immoral behaviours remains. My brothers and sisters, let us ask ourselves, in my mind, who are the “lepers” today? Who are those I ostracise from my community because I deem them unworthy? Perhaps it is the materialistic those who pursue money more than they pursue God? Perhaps it is the divorced and broke up their sacramental marriages? Perhaps it is the homosexuals who are living with a partner of the same sex? Perhaps it is the criminals who illegal acts? On more trivial matters, perhaps it is those who dress inappropriately to church, come late the church or behave in a disrespectful manner in church? Perhaps it is anyone I deem unholy? Hence, I appoint myself jury, judge and executioner, keeping the person out of my social circle and out of the church community.

My dear friends, this week’s Scripture challenges us to examine our conscience. Am I guilty of any of the above behaviours? God loves the sinners but hate the sins. Of course, we must object to sinful behaviours. But as we do so, let us ask ourselves: Am I doing it out of love; or am I doing it out of pride? In other words, am I doing it to convey God’s love? Or am I conveying the message, that I am holier than the sinner? In committing the sin of pride, I am but a sinner myself. I am not really holier than anyone. I am like any other sinners, in need of God’s mercy. On the other hand, if I am doing it out of love, I would understand that turning away from sins takes time. I would understand that the person needs to be accepted into our Christian community, for it is love that will ultimately turn a person away from sins. As Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (Mk 2:17)

The practice of ostracising the sinners is not new. This week’s Second Reading is the conclusion to a long argument put forward by St Paul regarding the practice of eating meat from the worshipping of idols (1 Cor 8:7). In First Century Corinth, as it is now, there was the tendency to denounce immoral practices. An ultimatum was put before the person: denounce the practice or be denounced. There was no gradual conversion, no loving acceptance of the person, no ifs, no buts. In the passage, St Paul urges his followers to not obstruct anyone from forming a relationship with God. St Paul urges sensitivity to those who inadvertently took part in the practice of idol worshipping. He urges his followers not to be offended by the practice (verse 10:32); so as not to let the practice become an obstacle to the person forming a relationship with God. For it is in encountering Jesus that we may experience His love and mercy. And it is love and mercy that will turn us away from sins. Let us ask ourselves this: If a person struggles with an immoral practice, do I become judgemental and deem this person not worthy of Christ? As one body in Christ, we should always support each other, rather than jumping to judgement of the person’s soul. For if we do that, what differentiate us from the Old Testament Jews in the First Reading, who concluded that a person has sinned just because he has an unpleasant looking disease on the skin? Instead of judging a person by the appearance of the skin, let us look into his or her heart instead.

This was what Jesus did in the Gospel. A leper came before Jesus (verse 40). Just think about that, he did not shout “unclean, unclean”, he did not avoid the crowd. So strong was his hunger for Jesus that he disobeyed the social norm imposed upon him and he came before our Lord. In response, Jesus too ignored the social norm, He touched and healed the leper (verse 41-42). If He so wish, Jesus could have healed the leper without coming into contact with him. However, in defiant of the old law of not touching a leper, Jesus healed him by touching him. In so doing, Jesus not only showed great compassion, and importantly, He dispelled the erroneous notion that one’s illness is brought upon by one’s sins.

St Theresa of Calcutta once said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them”. If I am one who ostracise other people I deem unworthy, let me learn to give my patience and my time. Pray for them and pray with them, so that in due course God will reveal His truth to them and turn them away from all immoralities that are in their lives. If I am one who witness the ostracising of other people and do nothing, let me learn from Jesus, who ignore the rules imposed upon him and reach out to the leper. He touched the leper and show him that God cares. If I am the sinner who stayed away from God’s church because I feel the absence of God. Let me remember that God has never been absent. God does not shut me out, it is my sin who shut me out of God. Like the leper, take courage, make that first step and come to Jesus, where I will find mercy, forgiveness and ultimately, true joy.

My brothers and sisters, the Eucharist is the Body of Christ. It is made up of many grains of wheat milled into one Bread. As we partake in the Eucharist, let us never forget that this Bread is who we are. Whether we are the one ostracising, the one ostracised or a do-nothing bystander – we are in fact one with Christ. Let us not put up human rules that keep others out. Amen.

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