The Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey
[Scripture Readings: Lev 13:1-2, 45-46; 1 Cor 10:31-33; Mk 1:40-45]
One time Charlie Brown’s friend, the self-centered Lucy, asked him life’s most important question: “Why do you think we were put on earth?” Charlie Brown answers, “To make others happy.” She reflects, “I don’t think I’m making anyone happy. But nobody’s making me very happy either.” Then, raising her voice to a shout she says, “Somebody’s not doing their job!”
The man approaching Jesus was not very happy, locked in the skin of leprosy more tightly than the man in an iron mask. Oh, how he wanted to be free of his loathsome disease! He envied Naaman, the Syrian leper, whose flesh became like the flesh of a little child after he washed seven times in the river Jordan.
The man approaching Jesus was a leper, horribly disfigured, untouchable, an outcast, one of the most unhappy of people. But for the first time in his life of physical and religious uncleanness his heart was trembling with hope. He heard of Jesus. This leper, this visible sign of the effects of humanity’s fall from the innocence of paradise, was seeking Jesus. And Jesus, the visible sign of God’s desire to reach out and touch us with healing grace wanted the leper’s flesh and heart to be restored like that of a child. Jesus wanted to make him happy.
This leper is the first one to approach Jesus publicly with profound reverence and prayer. He falls on his scabby knees, looks at Jesus from sunken eyes, and begs to be made clean, to have the soft loveliness of a child’s flesh. The mutilated body of this leper, the wretched outward circumstances of his life, were his occasion of grace, impelling him to seek Jesus. “He comes to the Lord in tremendous need, but his relationship with Christ is not reduced to his need to be healed. By acknowledging the freedom of the divine will to heal or not to heal, the leper manifests an awareness of the all-encompassing reality of God’s providence. … This man knows how to pray … from the bottom of his heart: Thy will be done!”He says, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Unlike Lucy who complained that someone wasn’t doing his job, the leper surrenders everything to God’s freedom and designs. Created to be happy, hoping to be healed, the leper’s faith is ready to trust the Savior and to persevere in reverence even if he is not healed. “[His] attitude of trust, his humble gesture of obeisance, and his one-sentence request are a perfect model of Christian life, especially of Christian prayer.“
Then in a gesture that foreshadows our ultimate union with God, Jesus extends his hand to touch the leper saying, “I do will it, be made clean.” In Michelangelo’s fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel the hands of Adam and God reach out to each other but don’t quite touch. Now, in circumstances very different from those at creation, Jesus extends his hand to caress the leper’s cheek and rest it on his head. At that moment the “divine energy passes from God through Jesus into the dissolving flesh of the leper.”His flesh became like the flesh of a young child. He foreshadows the happiness we will have when Jesus takes our hands and raises us from our graves.
Lucy wanted her will to be done. She wanted people to make her happy. The leper wanted happiness but surrendered himself to the divine will. What would it be like to have the spirit of Christ, a desire to make others happy, and the spirit of the leper, a model of Christian prayer? Recently I was told about a ten year old girl named Olivia. She heard that our Fr. Bernard was in the hospital following a very serious car accident last Nov. 3rd. Her mother said, “Olivia, without me asking her, has being praying for Father Bernard for at least a month. We were chatting the other day about a story she was reading of Queen Victoria as a girl. One of the little girls in the book gets dressed up like a mystic prioress. Olivia figured out she was some kind of nun. I told her mystics were people who experienced exceptional things and maybe had visions. She said, ‘Is that bad?’ and I said, ‘No, not if its from God,’ which was the best answer I had at the time. She said, ‘Well Mommy, I had something happen the other night. After I read about Fr. Bernard I said my prayers. Mommy, I just kept praying and I kind of fell asleep, but I was still praying. I woke up around a quarter to one and I was still praying and when I woke up or during waking up a hand touched me and it was kind of like a hug. It felt like a doctor’s hand. It was very kind but it wasn’t Daddy.’ Then she said to me the other day, ‘When I go to bed I say my prayers and after I climb in to bed I pray for the monastery and the monks and especially for Fr. Bernard who is sick.’ All this without any promptings from me. It was all her own. She also said, ‘I don’t know what it is, Mommy, but my schoolwork has been so much easier lately and I love going to school now and I am getting lots of A’s.’ Olivia is a very regular caring little kid raised totally in Protestant Christian schools that don’t talk about visitations and that kind of thing. So, as this was the first time she said anything like that to me, I definitely noticed it.” That’s what it’s like to have the spirit of Christ and of reverant prayer.
When Jesus laid his hand on the leper’s shoulder it felt like a doctor’s hand, and indeed it was. And the man whose flesh was now like that of a ten year old child knew not only that he was healed but that he was loved.