Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Feb. 14)

“I do will it. Be made clean,” Jesus says to the leper. Immediately the healing word effects a change in the man. The leprosy is gone. Jesus’ word effects a healing.

The first reading recalls the law of Israel in dealing with those crippled by the disease. The instructions are as beneficial to the affected as possible. The leaders in the community to are examine the person to assure the presence of leprosy.

In those days, the disease was thought to be highly contagious. As a consequence, and for the protection of the community, the person with leprosy had to be isolated. By today’s standards these restrictions seem harsh, and indeed they were for the person. However the purpose was to protect the wider community.

A change comes with Jesus. His actions and words reflect the Kingdom of God which he preaches. He does not impose the restrictions of the law but rather is “moved with pity.” He then utters the words that heal. After this he does fulfill the legal requirement by asking the healed man to “show himself to the priest.”

However, the man cannot keep quiet. He goes and “publicizes the whole matter.” The leper is clean. He rejoices with great joy. God’s mercy has come upon him in an extraordinary way. He who suffered pain, physical deformity and isolation is now restored to health in mind and body.

“The Kingdom of God is at hand,” Jesus said at the beginning of the public ministry. Over and over the kingdom is manifest in him. The power of God’s mercy is seen in the healing. That healing of the disease reflects God’s vision for mankind. This extraordinary manner through miracle points to the healing which everyone who believes will experience in the kingdom.

Many times, we want to experience this healing in our terms and times. That is not the point of the encounter. The point is that God’s compassion will effect a cure, a healing. The brokenness of man will be healed in the kingdom. Jesus’ compassion reflects the Father’s compassion on all humanity. The encounter reminds us that we can turn, just as the leper did, to the Lord for healing.

The responsory to the psalm echoes this reminder: “I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation.” The year of the pandemic continues. Everyone is affected. The sense of helplessness hits many people. The ways may be different for each person but the anxiousness weighs on each. Memory helps lift us from worry to confidence. God’s saving activity in the past is remembered and we look to him to be our strength and joy.

The psalm speaks of the healing of the soul. The psalmist begins extolling the greatness of mercy, saying: “Blessed is he whose fault is taken away, whose sin is covered.” He then gives witness to a personal experience of God’s mercy. “Then I acknowledged my sin to you, my guilt I covered not. I said, ‘I confess my faults to the Lord,’ and you took away the guilt of my sin.”

Sin imposes the burden of guilt. It weighs heavily on the person. Relief is readily available as we go to the Lord with a contrite heart asking for forgiveness and an outpouring of his mercy. The healing that takes place leads to praise as the psalmist says: “Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you just; exult, all you upright of heart.”

Jesus reveals the compassion of God that heals. God heals body and soul through his merciful love. St. Paul had a profound awareness of this in his own life which leads him to rethink his view of the world and the covenant. Christ Jesus is the center of Paul’s life. In the passage from First Corinthians used for today’s liturgy, Paul urges us to “do everything for the glory of God.”

That glory is manifest in salvation so Paul further urges us not to give offense to anyone but to seek the benefit of all so that all may share in the salvific love and mercy of God. At the heart of this saving activity is Christ whom Paul urges us to imitate. The merciful and salvific love that has been given us through Christ Jesus is to be shared with others.

As we gather in thanksgiving this Sunday for God’s saving love, we have the opportunity to reflect on his mercy. His mercy is one that heals both body and soul as he leads us on the path of his kingdom.

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.