The gospel account we’ve just heard is part of St. Mark’s introduction of Jesus. It has to do with Jesus’ identity, as have the gospel accounts over the past few Sundays. From the Sunday we celebrated the Baptism of the Lord through the Sunday before Ash Wednesday St. Mark is presenting us with the question: “Who is this Jesus?”
Mark’s answer? “The One who has come to bring outcasts back in.” He has come for the outcasts, the outsiders, the lepers, the sinners, and those we disdain. The great irony is that Jesus, the One who came for outcasts, Himself had to get out of town. Note that in several of these gospel accounts we’ve heard, St. Mark reports: “Jesus could no longer go openly into any town, but had to stay outside in places where nobody lived.”
That’s true even today in our surrounding culture. It is not politically correct, we are told, to talk about Jesus in public. He has to be kept from where people are living. For instance, at Christmas we’re supposed to suppress references to Him; we’re supposed to dilute the meaning of Christmas down to calling it “The Winter Festival”, or just another holiday for gift giving, or another holiday for family get-togethers. We’re supposed to submerge Christmas into other reasons for it being a festival celebration. So also Easter is for bunnies and Halloween is for spooks. At Christmas, keep Jesus out back in the manger; don’t allow Him into the inn where everybody else is gathered together.
The One whom the Father sent for outcasts becomes Himself THE outcast. But, we must ask, just who are the outcasts? We, the ones who have been cast out from the Garden of Eden, we are the outcasts. We are the ones God the Son has come to heal from the leprosy of sin. What irony it is that we become the ones who cast Him out, crucified Him outside the walls of Jerusalem, and keep Him, like a leper, at a safe distance so He can’t touch us.
At another level we need to take a close look at the question: Who’s “out” and who’s “in”? That question surrounds us each and every day. Think about the number of television shows are based on that question. Think of the American Idol show and the survivor shows. Think of the media’s concern about who is “in” with President Obama and who is “out.”
Teens are terribly concerned with the question: “Who’s in and who’s not?” They have their own set of outcasts, people with whom they don’t want to be seen in public. And so do adults. And so do families. We all have those with whom we no longer wish to associate, even family members we scorn and don’t want to invite into our homes.
If you think religion has nothing to do with life, or that the bible has nothing to do with life, then think again. Today’s report from St. Mark speaks directly to us, to our attitudes, and to how we’re living with those around us. It speaks to how we are living with others. We all have those who we don’t want be near us or touch our lives.
Is your relationship with Jesus a part of your life or not? Will Jesus be a part of what you think, say and do tomorrow? Or is He out of your life until next Sunday’s Mass? Is He “in” or “out” of your inner circle, those close to you, the community of people among whom you live? Is He “in” or “out” of your daily life?
Try this little test during any regular day of this week. Bring Jesus with you into any conversation. Bring Him in from being outside and then observe the reactions of those around you. I’ll bet that in any number of cases He will be the leper that people will want to shun. And if you allow Him to touch you, to touch your attitudes, your heart and your ways of thinking…? Well, then, you will have contracted His “leprosy” and folks will begin to shun you. You’ll quickly become an “outsider”, yourself an outcast.
As for your own personal relationship with Jesus, you may want to pay some attention to the part of the gospel you just heard where Jesus tells the leper to “go, show yourself to the priest…” As a part of your healing and re-entrance into God’s community of believers, present yourself to the priest. It’s what your religious tradition tells you to do. What He told them to do back then is what Jesus tells us to do when we are tainted with the spiritual leprosy of sin. He tells us to go to the priest and confess.
So when was the last time you went to confession, revealed your sins and showed the priest your own spiritual leprosy… and then received from him God’s healing power in the Sacrament of Reconciliation? If you think that going to confession isn’t important, then perhaps you’d better take a long, hard look at what Jesus had to say to us, lepers that we are, and about how we get back into God’s family. And just what is the role that God has assigned for the priest? The answer to that question isn’t simple. Forgiveness of sin isn’t simply tossing off an easy “I’m sorry” to God.
To return to my opening remarks, the gospel account we just heard is at the end of St. Mark’s first chapter; it concludes Mark’s introduction of Jesus. It has several levels to it. One level deals with who Jesus is…His identity. Another level it deals with who we are and the condition we’re in, namely our own leprosy of sin. Yet another level deals with what will happen to Jesus at the end of His public ministry. For by reporting that Jesus could no longer go openly into any town, St. Mark is suggesting that He who came from God to save outcasts, we who have been cast out from the Garden of Eden, will Himself become THE outcast, crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem. The beginning of Mark’s gospel hints of its ending.
It’s the end of the story, however, that’s the real clincher. For at the end of St. Mark’s gospel accounts we find Jesus, as Mary Magdalene did, in another Garden, the Garden of the Resurrection. With Mary Magdalene and her companions we find ourselves healed, outcasts no longer, able to walk this earth now in the glorious freedom of the sons and daughters to God, redeemed sinners, a people healed of sin’s leprosy, victims and outcasts no longer.
So the next time you find yourself talking about who’s “in” and who’s “out” maybe it would be a good thing to think about who Jesus considers to be “in” and who is “on the outs” with him. For when it comes to God’s attitude, the only outcasts are the ones who have made themselves so.
When we cast God out of our lives we ourselves become the outcasts.