Readings (Year B)
Reflection: Restoring wholeness
The readings for this Sunday echo deeply in our current reality. They are about illness and isolation, faith and the common good, healing and restoration.
These elements resonate with our collective experience during a once in a century pandemic. Some are facing illness unlike anything known in recent memory; most are isolating and taking precautions to keep communities safe, promote the common good, and protect our most vulnerable neighbors.
Physical healing will continue as God’s gift of human intellect and innovation offers us ways to prevent the spread of disease via epidemiology, immunology, and virology, along with the development of vaccines. However, we will also have to navigate unknown paths of social reintegration and community re-building for which there are no prescribed routes, which yields an impetus for faithful reliance upon God’s grace.
The demand in Leviticus that people with leprosy isolate themselves from the community seems cruel. Yet, without modern medicine and science, communities had to find ways to safeguard their members and protect the common good. It should be noted that the Hebrew scriptures provided a way to reintegrate those that were healed back into society and communal relationships.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus heals the leper then instructs him to present himself to the priest in accordance with the law of Moses. Jesus broke a taboo by touching the leper, yet he also worked within the bounds of halakaha—rabbinical law—for the leper’s restoration into communal life.
In the lectionary, much of the technicality is cut from the Leviticus passage detailing the assessment criteria for the various dermatological conditions that fall within the biblical category of leprosy. The priests, as leaders within their communities, had complex examination and diagnostic tools and prescriptions for treatment—including quarantine, isolation, and ways of acknowledging those afflicted with the condition. Catholic priests today can live into their societal leadership by encouraging and being exemplars of mitigating behaviors that keep our communities safe, as recommended by the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization.
In today’s psalm, the reliant reach out to God in times of trouble—a medical affliction of pandemic proportions is one such time that calls for a song about God’s salvation and comfort in the midst of trouble. The psalm re-centers us on God’s mercy, grace, and the core of our faith, Christ’s salvific action.
The epistle reading in First Corinthians affirms our individual responsibility as essential to work for and participate in the common good for the benefit of all our neighbors. This centralization of the common good lays the groundwork for the restoration and healing of the leper in the Gospel. The healing is not solely the act of removing physical maladies, but also a social one that allows the leper to be ritually reintegrated, restoring a sense of wholeness to the community. Such a restoration, as St. Paul writes, is for the glory of God.
In current times—eleven months into a period of darkness, self-isolation, quarantine, mask wearing, diligent hand washing, and social distance, when we have seen the loss of almost half a million Americans—today’s readings remind us that this is also a time of hope. Hope shines through in the monumental task of coordinating vaccines for hundreds of millions of Americans; in overextended and exhausted healthcare workers who continue to work for their communities’ wellbeing; in farmers who continue to grow food to nourish bodies; in resistance to chaos and violence that often accompanies societal uncertainty.
As Catholics we are called to have the same certainty and faith in Jesus Christ of the leper in today’s Gospel. With such certainty and faith in Christ, we know that we can work with others through this pandemic and that one day we will be able to welcome one another back from Zoom and into in-person communities. But for that to happen, we should ask ourselves, as we use the best medical and scientific tools we have at our disposal, how will we collectively be conscious of the communal trauma that our country and world has experienced? How will we learn to negotiate new boundaries for the good of all? Grow in our comfort of sharing meals and table fellowship again? Attend cultural events? And most importantly, how will we work to rebuild a vibrant parish life centered on the mercy and love of God?
Receive our weekly liturgical reflections in your inbox! Click the button below to sign up.