6th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Ages 9-12): Stretches Out His Hand
In the Gospel for this Sunday, a person who has leprosy comes to Jesus. The man is supposed to stay far away from other people because leprosy is a terrible skin disease that is extremely contagious. But the man with leprosy comes to Jesus anyway.
A leper came to Jesus begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.
A lot is happening here. The man with leprosy is supposed to remain far away from other people. The law states that he must cover his mouth and call out, "Unclean, unclean!" so that people will not get infected. What must he think about himself? Day after day he has to walk around labeling himself Unclean. What does that do to his heart? What does that do to his soul? Even if inside he knows he is good, after awhile, it must become harder to remember. As person after person turns and hurries away from him, it would become easier and easier to believe that he is no good to the core.
It is not too difficult to imagine how the man feels. Don't we all, at some point or other, fear that we are not good enough? We try to hide away the parts of us that we label Ugly, or Weird, or Strange. We can worry that we will be rejected, that our sins are too awful, that we will be unloved.
It is a marvel, then, that the man even dares to come close to Jesus. By law, he is not permitted to approach him, and his feeling of low self-worth would naturally hold him back. Is it desperation that drives him to Jesus? Is it hope? Perhaps it is neither despair nor hope, but a knowledge that goes much deeper.
The man knows something about Jesus. He falls to his knees before him. Why? What does he know? Not only does he believe that Jesus is God, but he knows something about God. He knows that only in God will he find help. This is faith.
The man's faith moves Jesus. In English, we read that Jesus is 'moved with pity', but St. Mark uses the Greek word, σπλαγχνίζομαι (splagchnizomai), which means to feel deeply right in your guts. What Jesus feels for the man is like a terrible belly-ache. Jesus is angry that the world is unfair. His heart breaks because this man is alone and feeling worthless.
And across the space that separates them, Jesus stretches out his hand and touches the man. In the eyes of the law, this touch would make Jesus unclean, too. But Jesus doesn't care, does he? He touches the man. He crosses over the distance to stand with the man in his pain, in his loneliness, in his fear.
This is it, isn't it? This is what we need to know. Jesus stretches out his hand, reaching into our shame, into our abandonment, into our tears. What does this do to our heart? What does this do to our soul? Jesus will not keep away; Jesus stands with us. This is Good News.
It is the best news, actually. The man, despite Jesus next words, cannot keep this information to himself! We imagine him skipping, shouting, belting out the news:
he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.
The Good News cannot be contained. He has to tell all. Bishop Robert Barron says he is like a starving man who tells all the other starving people where to find bread! People come from all over. We come, too, because we also need to be touched by Jesus. We also need to hear Jesus say directly to us,