Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 14, 2021
St. Anselm Church – Sudbury, MA
Readings: Lv 13:1-2, 44-46; Psalm 32; 1 Cor 10:31—11:1; Mk 1:40-45
Have you ever been ostracized, cast aside, made to feel like you did not belong? If we haven’t ever felt it as adults, we may certainly have felt it as children — in playground scuffles, or teenage rivalries and cliques. We know how bad that feels. And we’ve been taught how wrong it is. Yet it carries on in our world, even in the communities we are a part of. Racism, stigma.
Well, Jesus has something to say about this in today’s gospel, about one of the reasons why people were ostracised in his time — for having the illness of leprosy. His answer is not to stay away from such people, but instead to draw close to see them, hear them and heal them. For the Kingdom of God is one where no one is cast off or ostracized. Let’s listen with our hearts and our own experiences, and hear Jesus’ challenge to say and mean “All Are Welcome” in our time and our community.
Lord Jesus, you gather all the nations into the peace and harmony of God’s kingdom.
Lord Have Mercy.
Lord Jesus, you come to us in Word and Sacrament to root us in your holiness.
Christ have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you will come again in glory with salvation for all your people.
Lord Have Mercy.
Glory to God in the highest…
I first saw leprosy up close when I first went to India. It’s a terrible disease that causes the slow death of one’s extremities and is marked by terrible sores, as our first reading from Leviticus describes. These days, it’s curable with antibiotics if caught early. Though throughout the developing world especially in crowded urban slums, leprosy spreads easily and often goes untreated until it’s irreversible.
Just as bad as the illness itself, is to suffer the stigma, rejection and avoidance that have traditionally come with it.
In the first reading we hear how the ancient jewish law prescribed that people suffering from leprosy were labeled “unclean” and were forced to live apart from everyone else and to shout “unclean” wherever they went to people would know to stay away.
This practice reminds us of similar social ‘othering’ in history, as we might recall from reading Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, or remembering how the Nazis forced Jews to wear a yellow star of David to mark them as a rejected, subordinate, group.
In ancient thinking, illness was often considered to be punishment for one’s sins or the sins of one’s ancestors. This idea diminished and Jesus outright rejects it. But you see that the situation for lepers wasn’t just suffering from an illness — bad as that was — but even a loss of community and care; and the burdensome stigma of sin, that somehow they must have ‘deserved’ this suffering.
I have come to know a particular man suffering leprosy in India. For the last twenty years I have met him begging on the corner of two streets in Kolkata. He cannot walk due to the disease’s effect on his feet and legs. He pulls himself around on a low rolling cart with wheels. He begs every day.
Most people pass by at a distance.
Some hold their noses as if one could contract leprosy by breathing the same air. No one makes eye contact. Those who feel some compassion toss a coin in his direction — literally toss.
I began making a practice of giving him a coin each time I passed by him, but putting it into his open hand and looking him in the eye. At least we should acknowledge the common humanity we share!
So he remembers me, even when years pass. He is older now, balding, white hair. The disease has progressed and he is less mobile now.
A cure is beyond reach, but his dignity could be affirmed as many times as people pass by him each day…if only they would look at him with the eyes of compassion
Jesus looked with the eyes of compassion at the man suffering leprosy in today’s gospel.
Notice what this man said when he approached Jesus:
“If you wish, you can make me clean.”
If you wish… That is really a question, “do you wish to make me clean?”
Do you wish to affirm my human dignity?
Do you care to free me from the stigma, the label of ‘uncleanness’, and the ostracism from the community?
Jesus’ response: “I do will it! Be made clean!”
Jesus had the power and the man knew it.
He had the power to cure disease — disease of the physical body...leprosy, and disease of the social body…exclusion/stigma.
My friends, Jesus is offering us a challenge here. He’s suggesting a mission statement for us, his followers.
Can we say “We will it” to the healing of
the physical AND social diseases that still plague us?
Can we mean it with our actions and words?
An end to racism…. “We will it!”
Love for our enemies… “We will it”
The dignity of every child of God… “We will it!”
Healing of every division… “We will it!”
Inclusion of every neighbor… “We will it!”
Forgiveness of our sins and those who sin against us… “We will it!”
All are welcome here… “We will it!”
Well, God wills it too. God will make it happen if we will it, if we cooperate, not only in words but by our deeds.
Today we celebrate a very special event that has everything to do with Jesus’ will to include everyone, to unite the community, to gather us into the heavenly banquet: We celebrate Emily’s first communion today.
Emily: on this day, as you receive Communion along with the rest of us for the first time, Jesus is going to be with you in a special way.
- In Holy Communion Jesus comes to us in the form of bread and wine, as food. Just as you know you cannot live without food, you also cannot live without Jesus who loves you and will care for you forever.
- You can think of it like this. When you receive Communion today, you’re welcoming Jesus to live in your body and mind and heart.
- The Community at St. Anselm’s is very happy to celebrate your First Communion today! We know due to the pandemic other children who are ready for their First Communion are waiting til later. And we look forward to celebrating with them as well.
Friends, the Eucharist celebrated and received together, as we do today, is the “source and summit of our Christian life”.
- It’s our ritual celebration of God’s great welcome to us.
- It’s Jesus saying “I will it” to the removal of the barriers that impede our unity and peace.
- It’s the meal that provides a ‘healing remedy’ to all our ills.
- It’s the inspiration for us to live our lives in a way that mirrors Jesus’ own hospitality — reaching out to say “All Are Welcome” and no one is to be labeled “unclean”.
It’s a tall order, I know, but it’s happening in so many ways around us right here at St. Anselm’s.
- This past week a team met to consider how we might be as welcoming a place as possible — to those who are yearning for a faith community, or who experience disabilities that sometimes impede their full participation in our faith community. That team wants to hear what you need, want and hope for, to make St. Anselm’s a more accessible, inclusive and welcoming place. Stay tuned for a request to fill out a short online survey in the coming week.
- We did so well around Thanksgiving and Christmas to show we care about our neighbors facing a difficult time by collecting tons of food for our local food bank. Word will go out this week for another.
This Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, we begin the season of Lent. So often we think only about Fasting as the practice we associate with Lent. But the Church traditionally has three equal practices marking Lent: Fasting, Prayer and Charity.
- Charity in English comes from the word “caritas” which is also translated as love. It applies to what we do and what we say.
- What loving things can you say and do today? This week? In the season of Lent ahead?
- Try to answer that question, and as you think and pray about it, keep in your mind the image of Jesus and the man with leprosy…
- the man’s faith “If you will it you can make me clean”,
- and Jesus’ love, “I do will it, be made clean!”.
- Do not forget to check out the LENT insert in today’s bulletin & the GET INVOLVED tab on our website to learn more about what opportunities there are for us together to grow and deepen our faith and the bonds of our community.
All Are Welcome in this place! We will it!