Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
One of the most effective weapons used by Allied forces in the Pacific Theatre during World War II, was leprosy. Afflicted with the dreaded disease, Joey Guerrero, a young Filipino wife and mother, was forced to abandon her home and live apart from family and friends. After the Japanese invaded and occupied the Philippines, she quickly discovered that they were especially fearful of contracting the disease. The invaders took great care to maintain as much distance as possible between her and themselves. She was never asked to show identity papers; soldiers simply waiving her through check points. Believing the disease was highly contagious; not once was she subjected to the all too common personal search. And so she was able to carry supplies, medicine, food and even weapons and ammunition all over Manila. Her greatest contribution to “V J Day” (victory over Japan) was her ability to wander unchallenged into strategic areas in order to do recognizance. She was then able to deliver this vital information to the allies unchallenged. She was one of the most important intelligence agents of WWII; and she needed no disguise to go about her work. The sores on her skin protected her from being discovered.
Her name is, for the most part, lost to history. But her story is worth hearing and retelling. It is the story of how one, brave, young woman was able to use a horrible disease to help achieve a great victory.
In Biblical times, it was believed that leprosy was punishment for some grave sin. Over and above the fear of contracting the sickness, people shunned those afflicted, regarding them as both spiritually and physically impure. Like Joey Guerrero, lepers were driven from home and family and forced to live desolate and miserable lives on the very fringe of society. Every precaution was taken to ensure a great distance between these “unclean sinners” and the healthy. It was even written into the Law…the religious law…The Old Testament.
So then, what we hear in Mark’s Gospel is the story of how two, exceptionally brave men, used leprosy to help achieve a great victory. First the leper himself, demonstrated the urgency of his need, the depth of his courage, and the strength of his faith, by disregarding his enforced quarantine and calling out to Jesus. For His part, the Lord, rather than recoiling in horror, eliminated the distance between Himself and the man. He touched him. That healing touch must have stunned everyone looking on. They must have regarded “that touch” as extremely reckless; not to mention a serious violation of God’s Law.
With that touch, Jesus declared the urgency of His mission: to proclaim the Reign of God…where the Law of Love is primary. By eliminating the distance between Himself and the afflicted man, the Lord not only pre-viewed the courage that He would reveal in it’s fullness on Good Friday, but He also proclaimed God’s desire to close the distance between The Divine Self and sinners. Finally, “that touch” is proof positive, that the healing power of Jesus Christ is without limit…and it is His will that all should be healed…cleansed…freed from sin and death itself.
What a perfect story to hear as we prepare to set out on our Lenten journey. If we only have the courage to approach and call out to Him, the Lord will close the distance between us and God. He will touch us and we will be made clean. And once restored to health, on Easter morning, we will be able to join our voices in celebration of the greatest of all victories…the final victory over sin and death!
God is eager to speak the words to you…I do will it! Be made clean.