Those who stand outside the camp 6th Sunday in Ordinary time B 2018

Friends, the first reading this Sunday and the gospel text at first glance have nothing to do with Christianity but give us an insight into Judaism, which is important for our understanding of the environment that Jesus and Paul and many of the first Christians worked in. The text gives us valuable knowledge of how Judaism understood leprosy and their relation to this disease.

The third book of the Pentateuch is called Leviticus in Greek (Lev 13: 1-2, 44-46). The book has been named after the tribe of Levi because it was the priestly tribe who served in the temple. It was the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Bible that gave the book the name. This book contains rules of worship to God, the consecration of priests, their duties and rights. It has rules on food, legal purity and impurity. Leprosy was one of the diseases regulated in the book. It was the priest's responsibility to declare someone clean or unclean from the disease. In this context, they worked almost as doctors. At that time, leprosy could not be treated. It was a deadly infectious disease that one suffered for the rest of life. Everyone infected with the disease was made unclean and he or she could not participate in the liturgical and social life of the community. They were isolated that means excommunicated from the life of the community.  They were made to ring bell and inform others whenever they happened to be passing by. It must have been painful for these people. As a social being, it is in our nature to live in community with others.

Aaron was the first high priest and all his descendants were associated with him in the priesthood. All male children Levi tribe were Levites and were responsible for helping the priests with sacrifice and other spiritual services in the temple. Every person who was declared infected by leprosy was forced to live outside the city. It was a disease they thought came as a punishment from God. Thanks to the advance made in medical science, no-one is forced to suffer the same way because they are infected with this disease. Today, it is possible to treat this disease and other infectious diseases. On the other hand, there are other types of exclusion that many are forced to suffer in our time. There are many other forms of ‘leprosy’ people are forced to suffer today. We many not be suffering from leprosy physically but in many sense spiritually and it separates from God and his Church.

In many communities, especially in developing and poor countries, there are individuals and families suffering from exclusion. In most cases, it is the result of conspiracy against these people and families planned by some jealous and evil community members who are evil or hateful for some reason. Often, their evil and hatred are unprovoked. Tragically, there are many ‘Christians’ who do this to fellow human beings and fellow Christians. Unfortunately, local parishes can be a part of this conspiracy and by being quiet. Because most of the people involved in planning and executing evil deeds to some others parish members are members who are entrusted with responsibilities within the local parish community. A true Christian and a true religion can never be part of unrighteous acts, to encourage injustice or pay good with evil. It is the responsibility of the church to stand for truth and be the voice for the voiceless.

­­­­­­­­­­Recently, I saw a social experiment in which a man lay in ice and pretended to freeze. Many passed by and looked elsewhere. It was just one in eleven passer-by who stopped to help him. The spirits of truth and falsehood fight in the hearts of all people, they follow both wisdom and folly. The word of the Bible is life-giving. By following the words of Jesus, one receives a human life. The most important thing is not what we start but what we bring to a fruitful end.

In Corinth there were pagan temples where bulls were sacrificed to gods. The meat that was not burned in the sacrifice was sold at marketplaces (1 Corinthians 10: 31-11: 1). Apostle Paul’s converts both Jews and Greeks feel inconvenient to eating such meat. It could be interpreted as honouring pagan gods. This was a matter of controversy among the Christians in Corinth. Paul generally believes that Christians are not wrong by eating the meat offered to them. But in order not to scandalize weak fellow Christians, it is best to refrain from such meat. The most important thing is to do all that we do to the glory of God. Our daily life, like eating and drinking, should glorify God.

As Christians, we have a duty to be a good example to all. Our lives must become the gospel that others can read. It's not just when we kneel to pray or help a needy neighbour that we glorify God, those who think this way have not understood the Christian life. For me, when I write my sermon, when I meet members of our parish community, when I read, when I'm in the office, when I have spiritual guidance, when I call or visit a member of the congregation, I do everything to the glory of God. I have founded a charity organization association to fight poverty especially among marginalized women and children. I do this to give glory to God. When someone's dignity is violated, I'm not silent because I want to stand by the side of the weak to give glory to God. When I acquire knowledge, it is to honour God, becoming more efficient God's servant. With Paul, I can say that all I want is to know Christ and power in his resurrection. In heaven there are millions of saints who have not done anything extraordinary but everyday deeds. Everyone can do this even the weakest.

If anyone asks me what I have done to honour God since last Sunday, I would say that I have received seven days of the Lord as a gift, I have given him back to him through as an offering to honour him. In this way, I understand and live my Christianity and honour God. This is what it means to do everything to the glory of God.

On the first day of Jesus’ public ministry, he cured many diseases. The next day he did what was considered the greatest wonder of all, he healed a leper. As we read in the book of Leviticus, we understand that most of what is described as leprosy were skin diseases. The Rabbis compared the cure of leprosy to waking the dead to life. There were many in Palestine who were victims of leprosy at that time. The man we meet in the gospel probably lived near Kafarnaum. Filled with faith and hope, he came to Jesus and asked to be cured (Mark 1: 10-45). What is considered impossible for humans is possible for God. This man must have looked beyond Jesus' human form and, with the eyes of faith, again recognized him as saviour. It was no mean feat for him to have braved the scorn, hatred and opposition for him to come close to Jesus. Finally, he made to him and kneeling, a position humility asked Jesus for help. With this, he expresses an absolute belief that Jesus has the power to wake him from the dead. Of course, a leper was a living dead for the Jews of the time. In this, we see both Jesus' spiritual power and spiritual care, empathy. If we say to him, "If you want, you can make me clean," Jesus will stretch out his hand and restore us. We are in turn charged with bring the 'dead' in our communities to life, showing them the love of Christ. 

Today there are many who suffer from exclusion, many who are forced to live in society's periphery. If you had lived during Jesus' time, would you have treated leprosy differently? You were not there but you have a lot of opportunities to give a helping hand to many who suffer the same fate of our time.  Think of those who are isolated, discriminated and stigmatized because of HIV/AIDS, those who are avoided because of their health situation, think of those mentally retarded, they too stand outside the camp. It also concerns work for respect for human rights and the violation of human dignity. We are called as people and Christians to always stand in solidarity with strangers and the sick (Matthew 25: 35-40). Jesus has given his church the gift of the Holy Spirit: "These signs shall follow those who believe ... they shall lay their hands on the sick and make them healthy (Mark 16: 17-18). The Acts of the Apostles teach how Peter heals the sick (Acts 3: 4-8) as well as Paul (Acts 14: 8-11). The Church has a mission to see all the sick with the same gaze as Jesus full of tenderness and compassion. Therefore, pastoral care about the sick in the church is necessary and essential task, carried out with renewed enthusiasm by all as Pope Francis reiterates this year. Awareness of this causes the Church to establish hospitals and other health care facilities. We should not fail to remember many families who sacrifice and endure a lot of love to take care of their chronic sick or seriously injured children, parents and relatives. This is a testimony of the love that God calls us to show to fellow human beings especially the needy. "Doctors, nurses, priests, men and women of goodwill, volunteers, families, and all those engaged in the care of the sick are involved in the mission of the Church. It's about shared responsibility that enriches each one in the daily service, " Pope Francis writes in his letter for the World Day of the Sick 2018. Chikezie Onuoha MSP

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