Imagine what would life be like as a leper; having to live outside the community, - away from family and friends – unable to take part in the social life of the community, unable to be with family, unable to gather to worship, unable to take part in business or trade or work or recreation. – This is what a leper faced in the time of Jesus.
As we heard in the first reading, the afflicted person had to go before the priest to be judged if they had leprosy. If the priest said it was leprosy, the victim had to rend his garments, bare his head -- cover his face and warn people of their presence announcing, “Unclean, unclean!” This is why Jesus tells the leper he healed, to present himself to the priest, so that he may be judged clean according to the Law of Moses, -- so he may celebrate his return to life in the community.
We can use leprosy as a metaphor for sin. Not being in a state of grace, the stain of sin places us outside our Christian community. Sin is both private and public - an act against God and against the good of the community. Sin separates us not only from the love of God, but also the peace and harmony of our community in which we live, so we become like the leper – separated, banished, alone.
I recently watched a short film in which the narrator tells the story of his 7 year old son, who commits a “grave sin” – he hits his little brother and then lies to his mother when she confronts him. His response to being “busted” by Mom is to run away and hide.
Later, when his father comes home and learns of the incident, he goes about the house searching for his son. He finds a “Lump” (which is the name of the film) about the size of his son under the blankets of their bed. Dad sits down near his son, who has been hiding under the covers for a long time. Slowly the father peals back the covers to reveal his son all curled up, sweat-soaked – with eyes red and swollen from crying.
The son separated himself from his community - his family, - in his shame, in essence crying out, “Unclean, unclean” as he ran away to hide – alone, -- banished by his sinfulness.
At this point the son climbs up into his father’s arms and receives his father’s loving embrace. In doing so he is asking for and receiving forgiveness – a healing from his affliction. Just as the leper in Mark’s Gospel asks Jesus for healing – both want to come back in the loving embrace of their community – they want to Live in the Light – live in the love of God and family – to be alive among friends – not banished, -- as if dead to the world.
To receive forgiveness takes no more trial than the asking. The leper asked Jesus for healing – to be made clean and the son -- in his sorrow -- climbs up into his father’s arms: -- both trusting in the love of the Father -- that they would find healing and forgiveness. We too must trust in the love of God to heal us of our afflictions, forgive us our sins.
But the story for the boy doesn’t end there – he receives forgiveness, but he must also be reconciled with his community. Just like the leper who had to go before the priest to be declared clean, -- the son must take a positive action to make things right within his community. He must apologize to his brother and mother -- to make things right again among the family; returning his community to harmony and peace. -- So too -- we -- must be reconciled to God and our community when we receive forgiveness.
The sacrament we celebrate is called Reconciliation, not forgiveness. Forgiveness is the beginning of our journey to healing and return to life within our community. The restoration of peace and harmony is made manifest when we seek -- to make things right again with God and community – through Reconciliation.
So when we sin -- we seek forgiveness, but for real healing to take place -- we seek Reconciliation -- with God and Community -- so we might live again -- in the Light of Christ -- among our brothers and sisters in love, peace, and harmony.