6th Sun [B] 2003

Fr. Charles Irvin

Leviticus 13:1-2,44-46; 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1; Mark 1:40-45

Matthew, Mark and Luke all report the incident when Jesus asked His disciples the critical question: “Who do you say that I am?” The question is also critical for you and for me. Our spiritual lives depend upon our answer to it.

St. Mark answers it by emphatically stating that Jesus Christ is God the Son, the Son of God who came among us and is among us today. Mark adds to Jesus’ identity by presenting Him to us as the One who has come to bring outcasts back in to the family of faith. He has come for the outcasts, the lepers, the outsiders. The great irony is that Jesus, the One who came for outcasts, Himself had to get out of town. Mark reports that “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 culture. It’s not politically correct, we are told, to talk about Jesus in public. Like a leper, He has to be kept away from us. 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 public celebration. Likewise, 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, 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 became the ones who cast Him out, crucified Him outside the walls of Jerusalem, and keep Him, like a leper, at a safe distance away so He can’t touch us.

 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 that are based on that question. Think of the “survivor” shows, and the so-called reality television shows. Not too long ago there was a TV show called “Who’s HOT and who’s NOT?” It dealt with who’s sexy, who has a great looking body, and who’s somebody you have to be just like in order to be “in” with the crowd around you.

Teens are terribly concerned with “who’s in and who’s not?” They have their own set of outcasts, people they don’t want to be seen with 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 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.

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 the village, 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 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,” you yourself will become an outcast.

As for your own private relationship with Jesus, you may want to pay some attention to the part of the gospel you just heard wherein Jesus tells the leper: “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. It’s what Jesus tells us to do when we tainted with the spiritual leprosy of sin. He tells us to go to the priest.

 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, 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 these questions isn’t facile or simple.

To return to this homily’s beginning, 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 deals with who we are and the condition we are 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, those 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 is the real clincher. For at the end of St. Mark’s gospel account 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 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 idea 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 ones who are outcasts are the ones who have made themselves so.

When we cast God out of our lives we ourselves become the outcasts.

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”