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The Sacrament of Touch: Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time/Sixth Sunday after Epiphany (Year B, 12 February 2012)

The sacrament of touch

Readings
2 Kings 5.1-14
Mark 1.40-45

Let’s start with the Book of Leviticus (13.45-46; from The Message):

The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be dishevelled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, “Unclean, unclean”. He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.

‘Leprosy’ was not a good diagnosis to get back in biblical times. It meant you were ‘unclean’. You had to live in isolation, away from human contact. The irony is that these ‘lepers’ didn’t necessarily have what we call leprosy. Today, ‘leprosy’ is the name we give to Hansen’s Disease, an infectious condition  caused by certain bacteria. But in biblical times, ‘lepers’ were a mixed bag of people: some may have had fungal infections; others weren’t even infectious, having things like psoriasis or eczema. But they were expelled from the community anyway.

Leprosy was a disease ‘of biblical proportions’. Even today we know what it means to be treated as a leper. And we don’t like it.

A leper comes to Jesus in today’s Gospel story. Whatever he had, whether we’d call it leprosy or eczema, his wasn’t an ordinary illness. His was an illness that made him ‘unclean’—

  • unfit for normal human company;
  • unable to approach God;
  • unsuitable for the companionship of anyone—except those who were also unclean.

Despite what the Book of Leviticus says he should do, we don’t read that the leper cried ‘Unclean’, or that he covered his lip. What he did say was,

If you choose, you can make me clean.

Jesus’ response is

I do choose. Be made clean!

Be made clean.

Well of course, we’re sophisticated, we’re not like those people thousands of years ago. We understand germs and stuff. You can’t help getting sick. We can deal with Hansen’s Disease. We have quick-acting drugs with fancy names like rifampicin and dapsone. We also know that something over 95% of people are naturally immune to Hansen’s Disease. It’s hard to catch it.

We don’t call lepers ‘unclean’. Nothing and no one is unclean to us.

If that’s what you think, stop now! Don’t you believe it.

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All things work together (Year A, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 24 July 2011)

Readings|
Romans 8.26-39
Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52

 

The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

What was the difference between Paul and Jesus? (Besides the obvious, that Jesus is the eternal Son of God…) It was this: Jesus told parables, Paul didn’t. But if we could apply just one of Jesus’ parables to Paul, I think the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price would be a good contender.

Surely Paul was like the merchant: when he found the secret of the kingdom, that Jesus crucified and risen is the longed-for Messiah, he turned his back on everything and followed him. Others may have said he was a fool, they might say he threw everything away for this Jesus of Nazareth. But once Paul found his Pearl of Great Price he could pen the great eighth chapter of Romans and proclaim this wonderful, liberating  truth:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

And,

When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God…

And further,

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword…[nothing] in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is indeed a prize worth living for. This is a prize worth losing everything else for.

Paul’s confidence in the Lord Jesus is such that he has even become convinced that

all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Which things work together for good? All things. Not just some things, and not even most things. All things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

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16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, 18 July 2010

Broken to be a blessing

Reading
Colossians 1.15-28

Sometimes, you read a verse of scripture and you think, Whaaat? What on earth could that mean? There was one of those verses in today’s reading from Colossians chapter 1. It’s verse 24; perhaps it made you wonder too. Let’s hear it again. St Paul says:

I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.

Paul actually says, ‘in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions…’

Hang on, I thought, the first time I read that years ago. Didn’t Jesus die for the whole world on the cross? Didn’t he bear our sins on the cross? Wasn’t it a ‘perfect sacrifice’ for sin? How could there be anything ‘lacking in his afflictions’? Has Paul gone nuts? Perhaps he has! Read a few verses earlier, and you’ll see that Paul says this:

through [Christ] God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Here, Paul says that on the cross God reconciled all things everywhere to himself through Jesus. Because of Jesus, we are at peace with God. We’re not partly at peace, we’re not half-reconciled to God. We are wholly at peace with God, we are fully reconciled, we are God’s beloved sons and daughters, we have a place in God’s loving heart. We are fully alive, and why? Because we been drawn into the grace-full, eternal, loving dance of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Notice that all these things are true whether or not we feel them to be true. So what on earth could possibly be ‘“lacking” in Christ’s afflictions’?

Let’s hold that question, while we look at something we’ll be doing soon.
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12th Sunday of Ordinary Time (20 June 2010)

One in Christ: when night ends and day begins


Readings
Galatians 3.23-29
Luke 8.26-39

Let’s recap as to where we are on our journey through Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. Two thousand years ago, Galatia was a Roman territory in the country we know as Turkey. People had come to Galatia, who were wanting the Galatian believers to obey the Jewish laws like eating only certain foods, being circumcised and keeping the Sabbath. The Apostle Paul would have absolutely none of it. Not a bar of it!

As a young man, Paul had really loved the Old Testament law. But Paul discovered that the law he loved so much was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, now his Lord and Saviour.

Now the centre of Paul’s life was Jesus and not the law.

The people who wanted to bring in obedience to the law wanted to do it as a sign of the purity of the Christian community, so they could know who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’. Those who obey the law are ‘in’; those who disobey are ‘out’. You can see that under the law, Jesus himself would be ‘out’. Why? He died a criminal’s death as a law-breaker.

Law brings clear division; the gospel brings a new people into being, made up of both Jews and Gentiles, law-keepers and law-breakers.

Greek philosophy was good at making divisions too. Greek philosophers such as Socrates and Plato used to give thanks

that I was born a human being, not a beast;
a man and not a woman;
thirdly, a Greek and not barbarian.

Not to be outdone, in the Jewish cycle of morning prayers the men prayed:

Blessed be He that He did not make me a Gentile;
blessed be He that He did not make me a slave;
blessed be He that He did not make me a woman.

All this would have been the very air that Paul breathed as he was growing up. Saying the daily prayers, reading the philosophers, he was reminded of his privileged position as a Jew; as a man; and as a Roman citizen who breathed the fresh air of freedom.

But since his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul’s theme is unity in Jesus Christ.

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