Browsing Reflections

Fr. Jo's Reflection for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Yr B, February 11, 2024

Thank God I wasn’t a priest during the time of the Leviticus when priests, more or less, acted as dermatologists and diagnosed who had what skin disease and decided who was to be banished to the leper colony or reinstated to the clean yard. Or maybe, I am—in the sacrament of Reconciliation. Sin is a form of leprosy, which banishes the sinner from the divine territory, striping him of sanctifying grace. A life of sin repels; but the grace of God restores. The word “leper” when spelt backward is “repel.” Thus sin and leprosy do exactly the same thing: they repel—the leper, from the community; and the sinner, from union with God. I’m thankful that most of my priesthood has been spent restoring sinners to divine friendship rather than repelling them from God. Yet, I possess only a minuscule amount of the extraordinary attractiveness in Jesus who welcomed and related with the blind, the lame, the crippled, prostitutes, and tax collectors, but also holy people like the Blessed Mother, Simeon and Ann, John the Baptist, etc. He crossed every line and related with all—good, bad, very bad, and outcasts.

I can imagine that the streets of Galilee were empty at the time the leper of today’s gospel made his way to Jesus in violation of the laws and norms of the society that lepers be quarantined. It wasn’t just for religious reasons, but also hygienic reasons that lepers were discriminated against. In fact, in ancient times (and maybe not too long ago), leprosy was considered one of the most dreaded contagious diseases that could endanger entire communities. Therefore, in theocratic settings, religious edicts were promulgated to combat its spread. By a harsh religious edict signed by the priest, a leper was declared unclean in both body and soul and necessarily banished. Should he by chance come around people, he’ll announce his presence by shouting “Unclean, Unclean” to give people enough time to take cover. Even when the leprosy is cured, the former leper would have to be signed off the leper colony by a priest, after he shall have made a very expensive offering as evidence. Jesus asks this leper to take that same step and see a priest. He, in turn, wants us to see a priest in the confessional to be signed off the sin-colony.

But the whole thrust of the story is that both Jesus and the leper crossed a line. The leper, weary of the segregation he and his fellows suffered, and in a move somewhat like that of the pioneers of civil rights, decided to break unjust laws, go against the taboos, breaking the chains of his bondage. And he met his match in Jesus who came to do just that. With courage, confidence and trust, he makes his request: “If you will, you can make me clean.” There’s hardly any quality of a good prayer lacking in the man’s eight words. We find there: faith, humility, submission to God’s will, hope and resignation that are essential ingredients of prayer and a genuine way to approach and seek the mercy of God.

This story is not just about one leper who was cured two thousand years ago; it’s a story about us and our new world order. Whenever we let sin pile up inside us, we become less attentive; and before you know it, we begin to care less. Our sin turns into “who we are.” It shocks that, today, in place of seeking healing, cleansing and forgiveness, the modern way is to institute a pride parade of sin and an alliance of “sin-mates” bound together in identity fascism. Hence, the sinner thinks that forming pressure groups would do for him what divine restoration promises in Jesus. Contrary to leaving the sin/leprous shelter to encounter the merciful Jesus, today’s identity ideologues seek recluse in political shelters from where they unleash a barrage of vile and hedonistic infamy against God and His Church. In a sense, today’s leper rather than seek Jesus for healing hugs sin and invites the enemy for a deluded conviviality that celebrates rather than cures leprosy. But the consolation of our faith is that Jesus constantly seeks the encounter that would restore and make us whole.

Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo


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