Sunday Homily- Fr. Luke Uebler
“If you wish, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” Words from our Gospel today from the 1st chapter of the Gospel according to St. Mark – sisters and brothers, may the Lord give to you his peace and his joy.
Some of the worst pains that we experience in life are not physical. Yes, there are moments when we break a bone and it feels like a bomb exploded in our brain; likewise, there are major illnesses that wreak such physical havoc on our bodies that we are sapped of all our energy and strength, and these are terrible sufferings. But there are sufferings that can be far more terrible and far worse: take for example, the emptiness of losing a beloved spouse of 60 years, or the anguish and helplessness of watching your only child die before you. How many people have had to endure traumatic experiences such as being raped or suffer from the effects of war, or having been forced to leave the place they call home? Think of the Pixar Movie, Inside Out, which demonstrates the psychological effects of moving to a new home. Losing your job can foster a sense of failure, shame, or worthlessness not to mention while only compounding the headache of figuring out how to make ends meet. Anxiety disorders and depression affects up to 40 million US citizens. Sometimes, the anxieties we face not only cause us agony but completely overwhelm us into inaction. If someone is in fact looking for assistance, often they don’t end up finding the help they do need because it is difficult for us to reach out and touch suffering. Understandably, it is part of human nature to avoid suffering and to disassociate ourselves from it, and so those who are suffering become stigmatized. Many resources go to alleviating physical pain, but many other pains such as these go untreated. So many people, intentionally or not, have to face their problems alone, which just might be the worst suffering of all.
That man in our Gospel today who was infected with Leprosy represents us and the terrible sufferings we are made to endure, many of which have only intensified with the pandemic. And the leper’s experience from the Gospel today likewise shows us that some of the worst pains are not physical. Notice that he did not ask to be physically cured from his leprosy, but rather, the deepest desire on his heart was to be made clean. He wanted his emotional and social life and faith life to be restored. We heard how in our first reading those who were unclean were to be treated. They were to wear proscribed clothing that would mark them as outsiders. They had to yell out, “I’m unclean, I’m unclean,” before all who passed by. They had to exist apart and away from everything and everybody else. While quarantining measures such as these were necessary to protect the health and welfare of the community, as we ourselves know, the suffering, the non-physical suffering, it caused was terrible. We cry out along with that leprous man today, ‘Lord, if you will it, you can make me clean’
How wonderful it is that Jesus is not indifferent to human suffering in all its many forms! As he encountered the man with leprosy, it says Jesus was moved with pity, or if you prefer, the Greek word is more descriptive of Jesus’ emotional response. It conveys that he was moved from the heart with a deep-seated compassion mixed with anger. There is frustration and disappointment on the part of Jesus that no one has reached out to this distressed man in his unfortunate situation to give him any measure of assistance, but there is also a willingness on the part of Jesus to be compassionate, literally ‘to suffer with’ the man and empathically share in his burdens. Notice how the conclusion to the story explains how Jesus could not enter into any of the towns or villages, much like the man with leprosy. He literally shared in his fate. That is why compassion and empathy are so difficult, yet, Jesus brings healing by literally touching the anguish and those pains that others would much rather avoid, and his loving embrace re-associates all those who have been alienated. Jesus makes him clean, he reinstates the man’s status, he restores his dignity.
If Jesus does this, then we also have a responsibility to love others through their suffering in all its many and terrible forms. I might not be able to physically cure someone from their cancer or the coronavirus. But there is much suffering I can alleviate by offering the healing touch of Christ in other ways: I can be a person of compassion, who draws close to someone’s story and plight and shows them by our outreach and listening and words and actions and time given over to them, that in spite of all that is wrong: “that no one deserves to suffer alone; that I am here for you and that you belong; that you need to be heard and understood; you are worthwhile; you are good, that you are loved and cared for.” Us Christians cannot withdraw from each other, but rather must be of one heart and mind with Christ as we say to our neighbor, “I do will it, be made clean!” and so be there for each other as the healing, compassionate presence of Christ. That just might be the greatest miracle of all.