Saturday, February 14, 2009

Bitter to Sweet

(6th Sunday, B)

At first glance we seem to have another simple healing in the gospel we hear today. The leper expresses his faith in Jesus: “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Jesus responds that he does will it, and the leper is made clean. But this is more than a simple healing; to be a leper in the ancient world meant more than just being sick. As we hear in the first reading today, someone afflicted with leprosy had to “dwell apart,” living “outside the camp.”

So when this man is healed, Jesus not only cleanses him of his disease, but he restores his place in human society. We see this when Jesus invites the man to go the priests so that the cure might be officially recognized. It’s also clear in St. Mark’s report that the man publicized the miracle; he was again part of the ordinary religious discourse of the people of God.

This type of healing miracle, in which someone who was excluded from society is restored to relationship, is very much worth our time. This is because exclusion is one of the most serious and debilitating evils of our time. And I think we know this in our gut feelings. We all know the experience of seeing or encountering folks who are poor or struggling and having that particular kind of searing and guilty sadness arise within us.

We are made to feel uncomfortable because the divisions of poverty and exclusion in our society are the result of sin. This is the real sin of poverty in our world; not that people lack money but that whole sections of the population lack the cultural and educational capital to interact successfully in public, e.g. to make a successful transaction at the bank, to keep and appointment, or to hold a job. And this, again, is the result of sin. We’re not talking about my sin or your sin in particular, but of structures of sin that are embedded in our culture: the legacy of racism, patterns of drug and alcohol abuse in families, children denied their right to two parents committed to each other in marriage. These and many others are what produce the moral poverties that drag so many down into frustration and misery.

So what do we do? How do we bring the healing and reconciliation of Jesus to our broken and divided world? In this I think Francis of Assisi is one of the great geniuses of our tradition. Francis gives us an account of his own conversion in his Testament written for the brothers. He begins, “The Lord granted to me, brother Francis, to begin to do penance in this way. When I was in sin, it seemed very bitter for me to see lepers. And the Lord himself led me among them, and I had mercy on them. And that which had been bitter was changed into sweetness of soul and body, and I lingered a little, and left the world.”

We know that same bitterness Francis felt when he saw the poor of his world, and we can follow his lead in doing something about it. Francis refused to reinforce these divisions in himself by actually going among the lepers, living with them and serving them. In so doing, he reversed the miserable effects of structural sin in himself and became not only happy, but a saint. And we can do this too! Starting with simple acts of courtesy and regard for the poor, we can begin to overcome the sins that have allowed exclusion and division to flourish in our culture. In the coming days and years, more of us will become materially poor. May each of us do what we can to restore the dignity and place of the poor, so that our material poverty might not translate into the further moral impoverishment of our culture.

1 comment:

A Bit of the Blarney said...

I feel better prepared for tomorrow's reading. Thank you! These are always insightful to me. Thank you very much! Cathy