As we heard in the first reading, an afflicted person had to go before a priest to be judged if they had leprosy. Every pimple, blotch, dark spot and freckle was possibly leprous. If the priest said it was leprosy, the victim had to tear his garments, uncover his head -- cover his face and warn people of their presence announcing, “Unclean, unclean!” They were banished from their life – from their community, family and friends- they were like the real living dead.
In order to rejoin their community, family & friends, the leper had to go again before a priest for examination to ensure that they no longer had disease. Again, imagine how hard this was to prove. Remember – every mark or spot on the skin might be considered leprosy!
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 return to life and live again among his family and friends; rejoining life again.
Have the stain of sin upon us is like being a leper in the time of Jesus. 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, apart from the community, relegated to live alone.
Several years ago I watched a short film called ‘The Lump’ 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 (does that sound familiar?). He finds a “Lump” 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, in his shame, has separated himself from his community - his family. He banishes himself from his society; crying out, “Unclean! Unclean!” as he runs away to hide – alone, -- away from his communal life because of his sinfulness.
When the father finds his son and reaches out to him, his son climbs up into his father’s arms and receives his father’s loving embrace. The sons reaching up to his father is the son, in humble submission asking for mercy and forgiveness.
The father taking his son into his arms; holding him in a loving embrace is the father’s mercy that forgives. In this exchange of love of son for his father and the father for his son, the son is healed of his affliction.
Just as the leper in Mark’s Gospel asks Jesus for healing – both he and the boy want to rejoin the loving embrace of their community: to return to life, to Live in the Light live in the love of God and family to be alive among friends made whole welcomed, not banished, as if dead to the world.
Receiving 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 our heavenly Father 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 as Jesus told the leper to go before the priest to be declared clean, -- the father tells his son he too 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 Reconciliation, not forgiveness. Forgiveness is only the beginning of our journey to healing and our 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 desire to seek forgiveness, but for real healing to take place we desire to seek Reconciliation with God and with Community so we might live again in the Light of Christ among our brothers and sisters in love, peace, and harmony. ~Amen