February 11, 2018 – Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
I will be delivering he following homily at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Indianapolis today:
When I was in second grade, right here at St. Pius, the time came for my class to prepare for receiving our first Holy Communion. We practiced each day in the church, which is now Ross Hall. We were informed of all of the do’s and don’ts of our big day. The girls must wear white dresses and wear veils. The boys must wear dress shirts and sport coats and little clip-on ties. We were to walk in a straight line with our hands folded. There was to be no slouching.
A major emphasis, at least as far as Sr. Antoinette was concerned, was that we stay focused. That meant we were not to look around trying to find our parents or grandparents. We were not to look out the window. We were not to talk to anyone for any reason, except to say, “Amen” when Msgr. Ross offered us Holy Communion.
Sr. Antoinette was so passionate about us paying attention that she gave what I thought was a very odd example. She said, “Even if someone’s veil or tie falls off, you must continue to look straight ahead.”
I remember thinking what a strange example that was. I could imagine a veil falling off, but when has someone’s tie ever fallen off?
Fast forward to the day of our First Holy Communion. We were all dressed as instructed. We processed in with hands folded and walking in a very straight line. I was sitting next to one of my best friends, Tommy McKay, but I assured my mom that I would not misbehave.
I was paying attention. I was focused. I was following the rules.
And then it happened. I saw it out of the corner of my eye. Tommy’s tie fell off.
I panicked. I saw his tie fall off, but Tommy did not see it. Poor guy was tieless. I looked around quickly; no one was looking in my direction. Sister’s warning was ringing in my ears, “Even if someone’s tie falls off…” I bent down and picked up the tie.
I tapped Tommy on the shoulder. Despite explicit instructions not to talk to anyone for any reason, I whispered to him, “Your tie fell off.”
There I was, an 8-year-old dedicated rule follower who had broken the rules not once, but twice. I was petrified. I quickly looked over at Sr. Antoinette, hoping she hadn’t seen me. She had seen me, but for some strange reason, she was smiling.
Hold that thought.
Sometimes I read one of the Old Testament selections and wonder, “How does this reading contribute to my understanding of God, or my faith?”
For example…today’s first reading. To put the reading into context, it comes from the chapters of Leviticus dealing with the laws of purity. What we heard today were the rules for those afflicted with leprosy.
We heard in the reading: “The one who bears the sore of leprosy shall keep his garments rent and his head bare, and shall muffle his beard; he shall cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean!’ He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.”
The “leper rules” were clearly laid out; they explained what the leper must do. If we were to read further in Leviticus, we would hear more about how others should treat lepers. One must not touch a leper or his garments, or even enter an area where a leper has been quarantined, or that person will be deemed unclean as well.
While this might be interesting information historically or even medically, what relevance does it have for us?
Here is the twist: In the first reading, we heard all of the rules for dealing with leprosy – how to live as a leper as well as the need for others to avoid contacting a leper. Then, in the Gospel, all of those rules were thrown out the window, completely disregarded by both the leper and Jesus.
The rule said a leper must stay away from others, and must cry out, “Unclean!” if anyone were to approach. Yet, the gospel says the leper came to Jesus and knelt down right in front of Him – an obvious disregard for the established law.
Rather than correct the behavior, Jesus compounded the misdeed by disregarding the law as well. We heard: Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “Be made clean.” He touched the leper.
After the leper had been made clean, Jesus told him, “See that you tell no one anything.” The leper completely ignored this as we are told in the gospel: “The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter.”
The rule was – Lepers must not approach anyone. The leper approached Jesus.
The rule was – Never touch a leper. Jesus touched the leper.
The rule was – Don’t tell anyone about this. The leper told everyone he saw.
Not even Jesus followed the rules.
However, if you think about it, Jesus was not exactly the poster child for rule-following; just ask the Pharisees. How many times in the gospels do we hear the Pharisees questioning Jesus about His lack of adherence to the law? Why does He heal on the Sabbath? Why does He not ritually wash His hands before eating? Why does He eat with sinners and prostitutes?
Which brings me back to my initial question, “How do these readings contribute to my understanding of God, or my faith?”
Are the readings promoting anarchy? Is the take-away supposed to be rules are meant to be broken?
The first reading detailed the rules. The gospel showed the rules being broken. It is in the second reading that we get the message that ties it all together. From Paul we heard: “Do everything for the glory of God…not seeking your own benefit but that of the many, that they may be saved.”
Jesus was not about following rules or breaking rules; He was about glorifying God. He was about benefiting the many, so that they may be saved.
When the leper broke the rules and approached Jesus, he showed incredible faith. He knew, in his heart, that Jesus could cure him. In expressing that faith so intentionally and with such conviction, he was glorifying God.
Jesus broke the rules when he touched the leper. We were told that Jesus was moved with pity. By allowing His heart to be moved with pity, by acting with compassion, He was glorifying God.
The former leper went away and began to publicize the whole matter, despite what Jesus had told him. He broke the rules. However, in singing the praises of Jesus and spreading the news of the miraculous healing, he was glorifying God.
Do everything for the glory of God…not seeking your own benefit but that of the many.
I will continue to be a rule-follower. However, I know that there will be times when our hearts fill with pity and we act out of compassion, for the benefit of others.
At those times, it is OK to touch the leper.
At those times, it is OK to pick up Tommy’s tie.