Monday, February 16, 2009

Fr. Matthias's homily for the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Feb 15, 2009 (OLG)

Readings: Lev 13:1-2,44-46; 1 Cor 10;31-11:1; Mk 1:40-45

1. We live in a country today that has become obsessed with health, disease and medical issues—probably more than any other country in human history. It’s almost like "staying healthy" is equal to being on the way to salvation—indeed, it IS salvation. Our whole communal mind-set is shaped by medical issues. But actually the image of "being healthy" is not just about feeling good; it’s also about looking good and being able to achieve a lot and enjoy many things. And sometimes staying healthy and seeing the doctor is just about receiving the attention we crave.

2. Recently there has been some disturbing news about "public health issues." Namely, that drug companies have spent big, big money to raise public awareness about particular diseases and the drugs needed to control them....when in fact there may not even be a disease at all. In my reading this past week I’ve learned a new phrase, "disease mongering." Disease mongering is the devious attempt to raise public awareness of some potential disease or illness precisely to encourage people to buy specific drugs that would control or alleviate that illness....when, in fact, there may not be any illness at all or that it’s not nearly as widespread as the medical companies would like people to think. Disease mongering is part of the general "medicalizing of life" that is a part of our current American culture.

3. There’s also a lot about disease, sickness and healing in the bible, but not much about the medical profession. Two of our readings today are about disease and healing. The first reading from the book of Leviticus concerns leprosy. (We should be aware that "leprosy" in the bible is not the same as the modern disease we know as leprosy. Biblical "leprosy" is a generic term that covers a wide variety of skin afflictions, many of which could be healed over time.) Our passage today is about how the priests are to determine leprosy and how the afflicted one should ritually separate himself or herself from the rest of the community. But, notice, there isn’t any judgment about one who develops leprosy; it just happens to some people. You deal with it as best you can. Period. The gospel passage shows Jesus healing a leper who asks him for a cure. And Jesus cures him. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the story is Jesus reaching out and touching the man (which technically made Jesus impure). It shows that the sick are not to be ostracized from the community, but cared for. And sometimes they are healed.

4. Perhaps the key that unites both of these texts can be found in that short second reading from 1st Corinthians where Paul asserts: "Whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God." So, if you get sick, you accept it as part of God’s plan and deal with it as best you can. Don’t be making any judgments about "why" this happened. Here’s where we need a good dose of that spiritual humility that I spoke about last Sunday. No, we just give glory to God. And when someone does receive healing, the same action follows: give glory to God.

5. I think one of the most remarkable examples of that is the famous Jewish prayer, the Kaddish. This prayer is the only one you pray when someone close to you dies. I’d like to read it: "Let the glory of God be extolled, let His great name be hallowed, in the world whose creation He willed. May His Kingdom soon prevail in our own day, our own lives, and the life of all Israel. Let the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, be glorified, exalted and honored, though He is beyond all the praises, songs and adoration we can utter. For us and for all Israel, may the blessing of peace and the promise of life come true. May he who causes peace to reign in the high heavens, let peace descend on us, on all Israel, and on the whole world. And let us say: Amen." Remarkable! There is no mention that anyone has died. There is no mention of any grief or sorrow. Only the praise of God. As Paul says, "do everything for the glory of God."

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