Sunday thoughts: February 2018

By Monsignor John Devine

We are good at knowing who's right and who's wrong, who's good and who's bad. According to this model, an important function of priest, bishop and pope is to decide who's in and who's out – and to say who can receive Holy Communion and who can't. This approach is not confined to Catholicism. There is a fundamentalist tendency in all religion. The litmus test of the fundamentalist is condemnation of those who break the laws of the tribe and a refusal to tolerate 'weak' leadership.

And so we come to the readings for 11 February, the Sixth Sunday of the Year. Both Leviticus and Mark focus on lepers. They are forced to live outside the city walls. Lepers are unclean and untouchable. And who enforces their exclusion? It is the priest, of course. Jesus challenges this. In the gospel Jesus stretches out his hand and touches the leper. The very act of disregarding the taboo sees the leper healed and allowed back into the community.

Contemporary parallels have been drawn with those suffering from AIDS but leprosy is a metaphor that can be applied to all our condemnations and exclusions. Did Jesus spend time with sinners out of a high-minded sense of his calling? Did he take a deep breath and force himself to override the prejudices he shared with other Jews? Maybe he actually preferred the company of those who didn't 'fit in' – the tax collectors, prostitutes, Samaritans, Roman soldiers, the blind, the deaf and dumb, and the lame. There were consequences. "Jesus could no longer go openly into any town but had to stay outside in places where nobody lived." In curing the lepers, he had swapped places with them.