Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46
1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1
In our Gospel reading for Sunday (Mark 1:40-45) we have a brief but poignant encounter between Jesus and a leper. Our first reading from Leviticus (13:1-2, 44-46) tells us what happened to people who were declared lepers by the priests. They were cast out. They had to cry out, “Unclean, unclean!” lest those who touch them would be unclean themselves. And so this leper, this outcast, comes to Jesus and says, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” And Jesus, moved by the plight of this man, says, “I do will it. Be made clean.”
I was thinking of all the ways people can feel like outcasts in their lives. There are those who lost their jobs, and are still finding it difficult to find another. There are those who have had a relationship that ended. There are others who feel devalued because of their age or economic status. These things can be painful, because they often involve a sense of rejection, and a feeling of worthlessness. Sometimes people engage in behaviors they know are self-destructive and even sinful, and they realize they have cast themselves out, as it were, from their true selves.
If you add to this the conflicts we see around the world, which are often based on one group seeking to “cast out” another because they are of the “wrong” race, or “wrong” faith, or “wrong” tribe, or “wrong” culture, or “wrong” gender, or “wrong” orientation. This “casting out” is too often taken to the point of attempted genocide or extermination.
When we feel like outcasts, alienated from ourselves or others, we, like the leper in the Gospel, can go to Jesus. And He can heal us. Not only can He heal us, but He is seeking to heal us. Jesus sought out the tax collectors and the prostitutes, those that society cast out as unworthy of God’s attention or care. He touched the leper, not caring if He was considered unclean or not. His sole desire was to heal this person, not of just some skin condition, but of the pain of being cut off and cast out. God does not seek to cast out us or anyone! This is what we need to remember as we look at ourselves and others. There is no worthlessness in life!
Are there times when relationships may have to end, because of one’s safety or sanity? Yes. Are there times when we are called to work against injustice and speak out against evil? Yes. But I just don’t believe that we are in any position to try to “cast out” people from God’s love. People may reject God, but we cannot presume to speak for God in rejecting them. That is what the Pharisees did, but we cannot do.
Are there people (including ourselves) we consider unclean; those we would wish to cast out as worthless or unworthy? We need to look at Jesus in our Gospel reading, and try to see them as He does.
May we let go of trying to determine who should be cast out, and instead take on Jesus’ healing ministry.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P. is on staff at St. Paul of the Cross Retreat and Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan.