6th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B – February 11, 2024

 

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B – February 11, 2024

Leviticus 13: 1-2, 44-46; 1 Corinthians 10: 31 – 11: 1; Mark 1: 40-45

 

Theme: Sin Makes Our Soul Unclean

From Sunday, January 21st (the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time) to today, we have been reading the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark (except the prologue) continuously. We started with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. In his first-ever preaching, Jesus told us that his time was the time of fulfillment and the kingdom of God that he came to establish was at hand. Therefore, we were called to do two things to be members of his kingdom: Repent and Believe in the Gospel. In the second part of the same Gospel passage, Jesus called his first four disciples who were all fishermen. Jesus promised them that he would transform them from fishermen to fishers of men. This means their mission and ours today are to call people to repent and believe in the Gospel and so become citizens of God’s kingdom. These gentlemen left everything and followed him (Sunday, January 21st, Mark 1: 14-20). The newly called four disciples needed a training formation to learn what it means to be fishers of men (apostles) one day.  They arrived in Capernaum and for the first time, experienced their master Jesus preaching with authority and driving out unclean spirits with power in a synagogue (Sunday, January 28th, Mark 1: 21-28).  Jesus and his four disciples left the synagogue and went to Peter’s house where Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law and many other people who were ill and possessed by demons. Early in the morning before dawn, Jesus went off alone to a deserted place to pray to God. His disciples followed him and informed him that many other people were looking for him. Jesus told his disciples that they should rather go to the nearby villages to minister to the people there also because he came for that purpose. So, they went there, and Jesus preached and drove out demons throughout the whole of Galilee (Sunday, February 4th, Mark 1: 29-39).

Today’s passage picks up where we left off last Sunday. It talks about the story of the cleaning of a leper by Jesus. Our first reading gives us more information about this illness. Note that in ancient times, there was no scientific diagnosis of leprosy. Many other curable skin diseases unfortunately were included in this designation. In a spiritual context, all people who had contracted these skin diseases were considered religiously unclean and unworthy to take part in community worship. In a social context, the people with any of these skin infections had to present themselves to the priest who had to decide how long they were supposed to stay in quarantine. They were always asked to cry out “unclean, unclean” when someone approached their way to protect other people. Those who were healed had to go to a priest again to get official permission to return to normal life in society.

In our Gospel passage, a leper came to Jesus, kneeled down, and begged Jesus saying, “If you wish, you can make me clean”. This leper teaches us how to make a prayer of demand and, most importantly, how to make a good confession. The kneeling position is the symbol of adoration. By kneeling we recognize that God is our creator, and we are his creatures. The expression “If you wish” and the attitude of begging signify that we receive forgiveness and all blessings that we ask God by his grace but not by our merit. A good prayer and a good confession rely on God’s will but not on our will.

The narrator tells us that in hearing this leper’s prayer, Jesus was moved with pity. He stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” Notice, in the miracle of a man with an unclean spirit (See Sunday, January 28th, Mark 1: 21-28), Jesus healed this man with his word only. And in the miracle of Peter’s mother-in-law and other sick and possessed people (see Sunday, February 4th, Mark 1: 29-39), Jesus healed them with deeds, meaning he touched them, but with no word. However, here in our text, Jesus used both methods: word and touch at the same time. He heals this leper through the power of his words and touch. Jesus continues to use these healing methods until today through the sacraments. For instance, in the Eucharistic celebration, Jesus speaks to us through the Scripture readings, and he touches our souls in the Holy Communion. In the sacrament of Confession, through the ordained minister, Jesus speaks to us the words of love, compassion, and forgiveness. Then, we feel his touch when the priest lays his hands on us and gives us absolution.

When Jesus healed this leper, he ordered him to go and show himself to a priest to be reintegrated back into the community. Saint Paul develops this topic of reintegration of all people into the community of God’s people in our second reading. note that his community in Corinth was divided because many people were scandalized to see the believers eat the meat of the animals that were sacrificed to the pagan gods. Although Paul and informed Christians knew that such gods did not exist and thus there was no harm in eating sacrificed meats, Paul, in our passage, advises them to not eat this meat in order not to scandalize the less instructed fellow Christians. He says, “Avoid giving offense, whether to Jews or Greeks or the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in every way, not seeking my own benefit but that of the many, that they may be saved.” (Vv. 32-33). In this reading, Paul exhorts us to be considerate and careful in the way we live out our Christian lives so that nothing we do and say turns others away from God. Then Paul encourages us to emulate his imitation of Christ. Like Paul, we too need to imitate Jesus, especially his compassion and care for the well-being of those who are like the leper of our Gospel. We need to avoid hurting other’s feelings regardless of whether we are right or not. The most important thing is to preserve their faith and secure their salvation.

The situation of leprosy that we heard in our first reading and Gospel is similar to what happens to our souls when we sin. The way the lepers are separated from the community is the same way our souls are separated from God and our Church community when we sin. Sin is the leprosy of our souls. We need to come to Jesus, kneel before him, and beg him to make our souls clean in the sacrament of Confession. Whenever we do that, Jesus moves with pity, stretches his hand, touches us, and says, “I do will it. Be made clean.” Confession forgives our sins, heals us, reconciles us back with God and with our brothers and sisters, and as a result, reintegrates us back into the community of God’s people.  

Why did the Church suggest to us this continuous reading of the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark? Like the newly called disciples who are in training formation with Jesus, we too, as the new disciples, are in training formation during the whole Ordinary Time (34 Sundays) learning what it means to be Christians. Note that the Ordinary Time is the season of growth in our faith and our relationship with God and our brothers and sisters. That is why green is the liturgical color in this season symbolizing spiritual growth. In this first part of the Ordinary Time before the Lenten Season, the readings teach us that to follow Jesus means that all our lives must be dedicated to evangelizing the people of God, healing their physical and spiritual illnesses, exorcising them, and being constantly united with our God in prayer.

The training formation with our master Jesus in Ordinary Time is temporarily suspended as on this Wednesday we begin the Lenten journey with Ash Wednesday. It will resume after the Sunday of Pentecost, which marks the end of the Easter Season and the recommence of the Ordinary Time.

May the liturgy of this Mass make us realize our sins and give us the courage to encounter Jesus in the sacrament of Confession. It is Jesus alone who has the power to clean our souls and reintegrate us back into the Church community by restoring our relationship with God and with our brothers and sisters. Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD  

 

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