God’s Healing Power and Obedience to God’s Will
User’s Guide to Sunday, Feb. 14
Sunday, Feb. 14, is the Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time. Mass Readings: Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46; Psalm 32:1-2, 5, 11; 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1; Mark 1:40-45.
This Sunday coincides with Valentine’s Day, but the Mass readings are tied together by the theme of leprosy — not exactly the most romantic image! Nonetheless, Scripture is always ultimately about the love of God, of which all human love is a reflection.
This is the last Sunday of Ordinary Time before we start Lent. Ash Wednesday falls this week, and we won’t return to Ordinary Time until June 13, when we will pick up at the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time. The four other Sundays (Nos. 7-10) of Ordinary Time get preempted this year by Pentecost, Trinity Sunday and Corpus Christi — and a slightly shorter liturgical year.
Our first reading is from the Book of Leviticus and gives the basics of how God’s people were to treat “leprosy” (really, any contagious skin disease). The priests, who functioned as public-health authorities, had to examine the condition, and if it appeared contagious, the patient had to self-quarantine outside the camp and warn anyone else to stay away by shouting, “Unclean!” We can sympathize with these sick Israelites in ancient times who felt cut off from God and from community, as many of us have felt similarly during the pandemic.
Leprosy wasn’t a moral fault, but was employed as a model or image of sin. Like leprosy, sin is a disease that, if left untreated, spreads on the person and is contagious to others. It cuts off communion with others and God and is ultimately fatal. Sin can only be healed by God’s power.
Our Psalm celebrates God’s healing power: “I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation.” David sings about how, when he revealed his sin — that is, his spiritual sickness — to God, God forgave his sin and restored him to physical and spiritual health. This anticipates our Gospel reading.
In the second reading, St. Paul warns Christians to “avoid giving offense, whether to the Jews or Greeks or the church of God.” This is a frequently-forgotten moral principle. It is not enough that what we do is moral in itself; there is also the effect on others and example we give to others. The famous evangelist Billy Graham made a policy of never being alone in a room with a woman other than his wife. It’s not just whether our behavior is right, but also how it appears to others, whether it needlessly offends and whether it could lead others into sin.
Our Gospel recounts Jesus healing a leper. Jesus tells the man to tell no one, but to show himself to the priests, according to the Law. Instead, the man blabs the news of his healing everywhere, and Jesus cannot enter a town openly. Before, the leper had to stay outside of town; now, Jesus is forced to. In a sense, Jesus and the leper have swapped roles.
This Gospel is about the importance of obedience. Jesus wanted the man to be a witness to the priests, so that perhaps the priests — important community leaders — would see and be converted. But the man disobeyed and caused a lot of trouble for Jesus. Sometimes we, too, do things that seem to be good but are not Jesus’ will for us, not our vocation. Prayer is good, but if I continue praying when I should be changing my child’s diaper, it’s not Jesus’ will. Sometimes Christians get caught up in good causes but end up neglecting their “duties of state” or their own vocation: for example, to care for their spouse or their family. Let’s pray at this Mass for a heart that listens to what Jesus is calling us to do moment by moment and the obedience to do it.
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- john bergsma
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