6th Sunday B – A Leper’s Taste for God
‘Pain is God’s microphone to a deaf world,’ wrote C.S. Lewis. Jesus went about healing and showing the compassion of God for faltering humanity. The healing of bodies points to the Creator’s wish for the healing of the whole of us: body, soul, spirit, and all of crippled human kind. Much of our world today suffers from the illness of deception. Too many believe it’s okay for powerful people to lie and deceive others for material or political gain. We see it in our big institutions – be they financial, political, advertising or religious. Lying, falsehood and deception is a sickness in the soul, in the spirit and deep in the subconscious of these people. The unnamed leper who on his knees begged Jesus to heal him points to the power of illness and to where healing may be found.
This man who approached Jesus suffered incredible pain inside and out: contagious skin disease, separation from family, friends, village and synagogue. Everyone avoided him like the plague – For leprosy cf. Book of Leviticus 13,41 ff. and Numbers 12, 10-12. He was desperate to be healed and to be healthy again, and pleaded on his knees to Jesus for help. By entering our history Jesus entered everything that was human, all our illnesses. He became in every respect like us so he could experience our pain, become compassionate and offer us hope – Hebrews 2, 17. When he begged for help we are told Jesus ‘entered into his pain.’ Scripture scholar Eugene LaVerdiere says our translation ‘feeling sorry for him’ is weak and prefers ‘entering into his pain.’ Jesus plunged right into the leper’s distress and desperation and cured him, causing the leprosy to go out of him, much like the unclean spirit went out of the man in the synagogue the previous day.
Can you imagine the joy that day! The relief and happiness of being back with his family, friends, neighbours, worshipping community, and realising maybe for the first time in his life that God was on his side after all! This and Jesus’ other healings raise a corner of the veil and offer us a glimpse of the kind of life God had in mind for us from the beginning and wants us to make for ourselves: a life characterised by love, joy, peace, kindness, self-control, gentleness, trustfulness…. In a word, a world of justice, compassion and love – cf. Gal 5, 22. As Pope Francis has said many times, when wealth and power become our premier goals in life the heart is crippled and our humanity deformed. Jesus offers us a way out, a way back to normality, if we want it and have not lost our taste for God.
People of faith often experience a real if mysterious inner transformation when they pray for the physical healing of a loved one who dies. I knew a woman who watched her husband of more than half a century sink helplessly into Alzheimer’s. She prayed and went to Mass daily for years and sought all kinds of help for him. She herself had spent much of her life reaching out to those in need; traveller families, meals on wheels, neighbours who were ill. Her husband died after several years, his wife and family at his bedside but strangers to his eyes. The family had gathered to celebrate and experience the consolation of the anointing of the sick and Holy Viaticum. They accepted the hand that was dealt them, and handed him back to God in peace and gratitude for the gift of his life.
During his final stage of cancer the late Fr. Michael Paul Gallagher offered this cautionary capsule of insight to those who would pray for healing. ‘False religion says: “Fear not, trust in God and none of the things you fear will happen to you.” Real religion says: “Fear not, the things you are afraid of are likely to happen, but they are nothing to be afraid of.”‘ He quoted the above from Scottish philosopher John MacMurray to warn us against mistaking superstitious security for Christian realism. ‘God is always on our side, fulfilling his promises rather than meeting our desires…. God is like an eagle spreading out its wings, protecting its young from falling as they learn to fly. Faith is not a pain killer but a pain carrier’ – Michael Paul Gallagher sj, INTO EXTRA TIME, pp. 73-74.
Fr. QQ – 2/10/2021