This weekend we hear a challenging call from St. Paul: that we are always helpful to everyone, seeking only and always the advantage of others, so that they may be saved. Our readings this weekend encourage us to reflect on the pain and wrong of rejection. There are people who, although they have not had leprosy, will have experienced the pain of rejection and the loneliness of isolation. The pain may go back to childhood, to being branded ‘the black sheep’ of the family: the one who always got the blame when things went wrong. It may emanate from school days, from victimisation by pupils or even teachers. It may result from relationships: from loving dearly and not having love reciprocated. It may come from the workplace: being passed over for recognition or promotion. It may come from later years: from finding out that the children, to whom so much was given, cannot now find time or do not have the inclination to visit or even make a phone call.
In the second reading we find Paul steeped in the communitarian dimension of Christianity. He urges the divided community at Corinth to undertake everything to announce the presence of God in Christ. The Christian is to be bound up with non-believers (Jews and Greeks) and believers. The Christian is to build up the Church and bring about the conversion of both Jews and Greeks. In making the Good News effective, no on is to be overlooked.
The Gospel shows us how, in the approach of the man who, if the law were to be followed, should have been shunned, Jesus saw human need and responded with magnanimity and courage. In doing so he set his followers a high standard for responding to human need. Jesus’ compassion for people was an outstanding characteristic of his ministry. We see the healing power of God at work through him. Recall times when the compassion of others had a healing effect on you. Remember also when your compassion towards someone in trouble brought them hope, healing or strength. The true follower of Christ will never seek excuses for not responding to someone in need; on the contrary, he/she will find compelling reasons for doing everything possible to help, will never stand idly by.
The Gospel shows us that mission is not a slavish adherence to a narrow church agenda of cultic ritual. Mission is release from sickness, from isolation (leprosy), from loneliness, from exclusion, from the demonic and the destructive forces that trap and confine people into an internal and external darkness. Mission is about tangible change, a freedom that at an individual level is the release from guilt and fear in respect of God. At a collective level, it is release from despair and oppression and from poverty and inhumanity.
The leper shows gratitude. ‘He started talking about it freely and telling the story everywhere so that Jesus could no longer go openly into any town, but had to stay outside where nobody lived’. Jesus goes to the peripheries.
Pope Francis set an agenda in 2003 when he was elected Pope. ‘We must avoid the spiritual disease of the Church that can become self-absorbed: when this happens, the Church itself becomes sick and self-reverential.’ Pope Francis has called the Church to wash the feet of the prisoner, to befriend the migrant and to weep with the persecuted.
Canon Francis Brown