Ampleforth Abbey

25 February 2018

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily by Fr Christopher Gorst OSB

There was a terrible fear of Leprosy in Old Testament times, and it may be true in some societies even today. If you can remember the 1980’s, there was a comparable fear of AIDS, which is still prevalent in many parts of the world. The Law of Moses tried to alleviate this fear, by having the priest examine the leprous part and make a declaration that it was or was not leprosy. In our more enlightened days, we may think that the Law was cruel in banishing the leper, but in fact it was there to preserve life, and in most cases to give life.

We are only too aware that the law can be manipulated and can cease to give or preserve life. It can be used to exclude and to alienate, and no more so than when fear prevails. The leper in today’s Gospel was full of faith and courage when he approached Jesus, knowing that only God could save him. And was he testing Jesus to see by which law this teacher was living? Was he living by the laws of ritual cleansing and purification, or by the law of love and compassion? ‘If you want to’, the leper says, ‘ you can cure me.’ Jesus breaks the law of ritual purity and touches the leper.. ‘Be cured’, he says.

Then we continue a curious dance. Quite severely, Jesus demands of the cured man to be silent, to show himself to the priests and to make the offering prescribed by Moses. In other words, Jesus demands of him that he fulfil the law of ritual purity. The man, on the other hand, disobeys both the Law and Jesus. He goes into the town and tells everyone. The final scene is a reversal of roles: the former leper is in the town, preaching the love of God. Jesus is outside, unable to enter the towns and places where people lived, not because he is now unclean, as the Law would have said, but because people want to find and see him and receive the life he is offering. Yes, there has been a dance between Love and Law, Law or Love, between Silence and Speech, between Town and Wilderness, between Life and Death.

Why does this have echoes for me of Elijah’s words on Mount Carmel? He stepped out in front of all the people. 'How long' he said 'do you mean to hobble first on one leg then on the other? If Yahweh is God, follow him; if Baal, follow him’. Perhaps the question for us is ‘Which law do we follow?’ And is that question behind Paul’s words in the second reading? You and I are pledged to the Law of Christ. He is our model. Today laws can be very confusing, and are often promulgated in an atmosphere of fear. We need to be very clear by whose Law we find Life. Let us ensure that we follow the law of love and compassion, the law of the Gospel, and let it lead us to Life.