Friday 12 December 2014

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

What does it mean to be treated as an outcast or to be ostracised from society? Have you ever experienced being treated as an outcast, ostracised or excluded from a group, a community or even from society? Many of us may have had the privilege of not having to experience such a thing, but there are some who go through this ordeal daily. Such people are treated this way due to a number of reasons: a person could have committed a crime so heinous or horrible that the person is locked away from others for the so called good of society; or a person could be infected with an extremely contagious or dangerous disease, that it is safer and better for such a person to be separated from others to avoid any further infection to others around the person or even to avoid an epidemic. One such disease which could cause a person to be ostracised is leprosy.

Most of us yearn for a good, happy and healthy relationship and companionship with our friends, our family and our loved ones. However, if one is stricken with leprosy, such a relationship and companionship may not be possible so long as the disease is still existing with the person. Leprosy is curable with the help of modern medicine, and people infected with the disease and are on proper medication could live a normal lifestyle. However, lepers in ancient times, including those during the time of Jesus, were not so lucky. Fear and prejudice led them to being treated with contempt and scorn as some people wrongly thought that they had become lepers because they had committed some great sin. Some lepers may even have felt isolated from God as they could not attend the synagogue services or visit the Temple at Jerusalem. Thus, the only company that they would have had would have been with other lepers.

The leper in today's Gospel could have felt tremendous emotional and physical pain due to his condition. He would have had to live away from others, as the first reading tells us: "The man is leprous: he is unclean. The priest must declare him unclean; he is suffering from leprosy of the head. A man infected with leprosy must wear his clothing torn and his hair disordered; he must shield his upper lip and cry, “Unclean, unclean.” As long as the disease lasts he must be unclean; and therefore he must live apart: he must live outside the camp." Can you imagine being called "unclean"? What a demeaning or insulting title! But that was what this leper had to go through. In desperation, he hoped that Jesus would cure him and release him from his predicament. And that is exactly what Jesus did; He cured the leper and gave him back his freedom: the man could come out of his isolation and be reunited with his loved ones and with society. The cured man could have been so delighted and excited about being cured, that he defied Jesus' stern order: "Mind you say nothing to anyone, but go and show yourself to the priest, and make the offering for your healing prescribed by Moses as evidence of your recovery." Instead, he started telling everyone about Jesus.

Today, we have many "lepers" in our midst. Do we know who they are? Have we thought about how we can bring Jesus' healing presence to them? These "lepers" may not necessarily be suffering from leprosy, but they may be suffering a similar fate like lepers because of a number of reasons: they could be isolated, lonely and confined to their homes due to sickness or old age; they could be rejected by society due to prejudice and fear because they are suffering from some infectious disease or from some perceive as a dangerous and contagious disease or even from AIDS; they could have isolated themselves because of grief or poor self-esteem; or they could be migrants or even others suffering from ridicule or isolation due to language difficulties, prejudice and poverty. As Christians, we need to come out of our comfort zones, our pride and prejudice, and our fear, and reach out to these many "lepers" around us. Let us bring Jesus to them, and do our part in showing them God's compassion, love, and mercy.

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