6th Sunday in Ordinary Time Reflection by Michael Bayer
Whenever I unpack a particular passage from Scripture, I aim to answer three primary questions: 1) What’s going on here; 2) What does it have to do with us; 3) How should our week be different for having heard it?
In today’s Gospel, we hear the familiar story of Jesus healing a leper. The narrative is so familiar, in fact, that, upon hearing the words proclaimed from the pulpit, we might nod knowingly, zone out, and think about the list of items we need to pick up from the grocery store on the way home. After all, we long ago memorized the lesson of this passage—Jesus works miracles, he cures those who are sick, and we should come to him with what ails us.
And those are good takeaways! But there is a great deal more to this passage, and it has everything to do with how our week should be different for having heard it.
The first thing to note is that the leper depicted in Mark’s Gospel typifies the sort of dual suffering that any of us experiences when we are injured or sick. There is the pain of the illness itself, and there is the added agony of being separated from loved ones. Think about a time when you were stuck home in bed with a nasty case of the flu: not only were you suffering physically from the effects of the virus on your body, you also suffered from being unable to go out and participate in activities with friends and family.
Those with skin diseases were required by Jewish law to live outside of the town gates, because their affliction rendered them “unclean.” Ancient societies may not have understood microbial infections, but they knew that certain conditions were communicable, and so they sought to prevent these individuals from contaminating the rest of the community. Thus, the leper in today’s Gospel very likely had not seen his parents, siblings, possibly even wife and children, in years. Like an oncologist who helps a cancer patient walk out of the hospital, Jesus did not simply cure a disease—he gave this person his life back.
A second item to note is Jesus’ use of what is known as the “divine passive.” Instead of declaring, “I heal you,” Jesus says, “Be made clean,” or “Be healed.” Throughout the Gospels, Jesus utilizes this formula, shouting, “Be opened!” to the eyes of the man born blind and announcing, “Your sins are forgiven,” to the paralytic. In each of these instances, the listener should add the phrase “by God,” to get the full sense of Jesus’ words. The grammar is not incidental—Jesus is attesting that the source of the healing is God and establishing himself as an instrument of that healing.
This is of enormous importance for us contemporary listeners because, if this were simply a story about how Jesus could perform miracles, it could leave us feeling powerless when we encounter someone who is sick or suffering. After all—we are not God! We cannot cure leukemia or undo a broken heart or lift a person out of clinical depression.
Instead, Jesus is providing us with a model of how we, who are called to be Christ to one another, can offer comfort to those who are suffering. Each of us can utter those same words, “Be healed!” since it is God who is the source of the healing, and we are merely the instruments.
A third and final aspect of today’s Gospel: the man rushes into town and broadcasts news of his healing. This reveals another core truth: our encounter with Jesus compels us to become evangelizers. Every person who experiences the healing power of Jesus is permanently and unavoidably transformed. They cannot help but go around sharing this with others.
Pope Francis has described the Church as a “field hospital” that must minister to the hurting, the broken, the wounded. We arrive each week with our own list of bruises and illnesses, and we receive healing from God through His Son, Jesus. But it does not stop there. Like the man in today’s Gospel, we should burst forth from this place to share this experience with others. And we should be looking around asking, “Who is it in my week who needs healing? Who in my office? In my family? How can I be an instrument of God’s healing to that person?”
Three takeaways: 1) Jesus is providing us a model to help heal those who are suffering; 2) the healing comes from God, not from us; 3) our experience of being healed compels us to go share that healing with others.