We have two beautiful homilies by Father Hanly for 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B: “Alienation” and “The Leper.”
Father Hanly’s wonderful homily for 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, on the Leper, is important, because, as he reminds us, “one way or another, all of us, in some way, shape or form, are alienated.”
Readings for Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
- First Reading: Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 32:1-2, 5, 11
- Second Reading: First Corinthians 10:31–11:1
- Gospel: Mark 1:40-45
(Apologies, very beginning of homily missing/inaudible.)
For centuries and centuries and up to modern times, when they made great headway, as they have now, in curing leprosy, it was known as a kind of a judgment upon the leper.
It was such a terrible disease that in Biblical times, the leper used to have to put a bell around his neck and he would have to shout out that, in warning to people that might come close to him, and he would shout, “I am a leper, stay away! I am a leper, stay away!”
This must have been a terrible life. It was the living dead. It was as if God had abandoned him and people were told not to go near him.
And so it came to be that a leper became symbolic of a deep isolation, a kind of a hopeless situation and an alienation from all the people around you.
In the First Reading, we hear that in Biblical times Moses said to the people that if someone has contracted leprosy they should be put off to the side and not be allowed to go into the temple. They were not only unclean physically, they were unclean religiously. And then, after they were cured, they were supposed to go first to the temple and thank God for the cure.
This seems a bit heartless. But on another level, it was Moses and the leaders saying we must protect the people, because an epidemic of leprosy could destroy everyone. Very harsh days.
But Mark has got other things to say about leprosy. And that’s why this story is so attractive.
Remember we said about Mark: he always has three special ideas whenever he tells a story. They’re like questions.
The first one is: “Who is this man?” He does this in every story, meaning who really is Jesus?
And you never find out till the very end of the Gospel.
The second one is: “What has he done?”
And then he describes what Jesus does, so that you might understand that the Messiah has come.
And what the Messiah does is brings the Kingdom of God with him and the Kingdom of God heals. The Messiah heals.
And then the final question is: “What are his disciples to do, when they understand that the Kingdom of God is among them and that the Messiah is called to heal?”
And so, interwoven in this story are the response of Mark to a Christian community who were to, first of all, understand that they themselves, before they came to know that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, they themselves were in a situation, isolated and alone, and not really filled with the love of God which makes us one with ourselves, with a wholeness in our hearts, and also with our brothers and sisters.
The other thing, though, that Mark is saying to us is, and you must go a little bit into the story…
Think of it now, as Mark presents the story. The first thing that he says is:
“A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said,
“If you wish, you can make me clean.”
This is a very half-hearted faith. He’s not saying: “Heal me!” He’s saying, “If you want to, if you really want to, you know, you could really do this, but I don’t see whether you’re going to do it or not, because nobody else will have anything to do with me. I’m all alone and I will die alone.” And this is a terrible indictment.
But he’s heard that Jesus cures, and so he goes up to Jesus, which is a sign of his faith, because he comes up to Jesus and lepers are supposed to stay far away with their little bell ringing and warning Jesus don’t come near. But he goes up and he kneels down and he says: “If you really want to heal me, you can.”
And Jesus, what does he do?
“Of course, I want to heal you.” And not only does he reach out to him, he touches him, he embraces him.
Now, we know what this is like, because we’ve all lived through the AIDS situation. At the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, if you ever went to a hospital, as I did, everybody was suited up and nobody was allowed to touch anything in the room or any person.
I remember I was at the deathbed of a man, the first European to die of AIDS in Hong Kong. And I was allowed, and his son was allowed, and no-one else was allowed. And they put garments on us and masks. And the people around us were like in spacesuits. And it was terrible. And we watched, we watched while the man died. And we prayed until his father died.
And then men came in. And they just took the bedding and everything and wrapped him up like he was garbage. And they dragged it out and threw it down to people waiting below and they took it away in a truck. And this poor young man had to see his father treated in this way. And everything in the room was taken and shoved into the same bag and it was all taken to be burned.
Now, it’s excusable, because it was a mystery. Everybody thought that AIDS was going to be such an epidemic that it might attack half the people or whatever.
And yet it shows you what our fears can do. Not in the larger sense — this is a very dramatic incident — but in the smaller sense. Because we do the same thing to each other. We really do.
We’re afraid of neighbours. We’re afraid of new people coming into our community. We stay away from them. We make them feel like they’re not wanted, they’re not accepted, because we don’t know them, we don’t know their language, we don’t know perhaps where they come from or their background, we’re threatened by them.
And this is what Mark wants us to understand. He doesn’t want the dramatic incidents.
And Jesus says to the leper, “Of course, I want to heal you.” And immediately he’s healed.
And then Jesus gets a little bit upset, he says, “Now don’t tell anyone. You just go to the temple as Moses said and give thanks to God, because when you’re cured you are to go directly to God who has cured you and thank Him.”
But the man’s just, he’s so happy he can’t stand it. He tells everybody, “A miracle, a miracle, a miracle was done to me. I am cured now!”
And, of course, what happens to Jesus is all the people come.
They want to see the curer, the one who makes the miracle, the sideshow. And they forgot about the idea of alienation. They didn’t think that maybe they are to be like Jesus and reach out to all those who feel alienated from the present circumstances of their life among us. They just thought “Oh, a miracle,” you see.
And that’s why Jesus was so angry. He came to heal. He didn’t come to do miracles and fascinate everybody and lead a parade in some victorious march. He came because he knew, one way or another, all of us, in some way, shape or form, are alienated. And it’s true.
And this is the second. The first was, “Who is this who does these things?” And we find out that it is God’s Son. And “What does he come to do?” He comes to reach out and to heal us.
The third thing that we are supposed to do then, if we are really disciples, is not to rejoice that a miracle has been done, or we have been confirmed in our faith, or isn’t it wonderful — which that’s what miracle means, miracula. “Oh, it’s really wonderful,” you see. The presence of God is here.
If you believe in God, the presence of God has always been here. The trouble with the presence of God is He somehow finds it difficult to get involved not only in us praying and say, “Oh, it’s wonderful to have you,” but to do what the Messiah came to do, which is to reach out to other people and bring the love and compassion of God to them.
Jesus had this wonderful understanding and feeling for people, all people who were suffering.
And this is what Oscar Wilde, remember Oscar Wilde, the British, the Englishman, the Irishman really, who wrote the lovely poetry and the plays, and was put in jail and suffered a great deal. And this is what Oscar Wilde says about Jesus:
“Jesus understood the leprosy of the leper, the darkness of the blind, the fierce misery of those who live for pleasure, the strange poverty of the rich, and the thirst that can make people drink from muddy water.”
Jesus stretches our capacity for compassion. He challenges our idea of what is true love.
Each of us has a great capacity for love, the pity is that it often goes unused. We have in our power to reach out to those who are suffering the pain of rejection, each day all around us. We could enkindle new hope, we could bring back the zest for living in someone else, and if we do, we mirror dimly the infinite compassion of God.
I’d like to tell you, maybe, as a final to this, a personal incident that takes it out of the sky and makes it very real.
When I was a young student in primary school, I remember I was in the sixth grade in a primary school and we lived out in the country, because the War had threatened and my parents felt that we should move out to the country for making it a little bit safer for the children.
And it was terrible times, it was difficult, the Depression was still on and that. But, anyway, we moved out and finally my father couldn’t afford the…
We moved out to a place called Brentwood and then Hicksville. And these were little towns, and they were quiet little towns and nothing really happened except life. And we grew up for a few years in this kind of an environment. And I had gone to Saint Ignatius School and made a lot of friends, and everything was going fine, as it should go.
And, all of a sudden, we found that my father could no longer afford the train fare, because his job was still as a clerk on Wall Street and there was nothing going on Wall Street yet.
Anyhow, we moved back into Brooklyn, into a working class, a very tough working class, neighbourhood. On one side we had black people who were moving up from the south and were even poorer than we were. And on the other side we had Jewish people who had come from Russia and from Germany to escape what was happening in Germany. And then in the middle was this little Irish/Italian section.
Well, it was terrible for me, because they had a different way in Brooklyn of how you approach people. But one of the ways was that you’re harsh and you don’t accept newcomers and you’re defensive. And more than that, I was also, I had lost all my friends and everything.
So I began my usual, whenever I get into that situation what I do is I pout. You know? You know how kids pout? You think it’s not serious, but sometimes it’s very serious. They’re not going to … Just looking out the window and …
My mother kept saying, “Well, what’s wrong with him? What’s wrong with him?” you know.
And my father kind of knew, I think, so he took me out. And every time he came home from work, he’d take me for a walk in the neighbourhood.
Now what happened in the neighbourhood was wonderful, because we went from the Irish section, to the Italian section, to the Jewish section, to the black section, and to even the Armenian section, if you would believe it. There were about twenty-five different small neighbourhoods with all the people in the world there.
And each time we would walk around, he’d explain it. He’d say, now these people come from such-and-such a place, and to top off his little lesson, he would buy whatever was featured.
If we went to Chinatown, he would buy chicken chow mein and we’d have that. And then if we went to the Russian section, we would have some kind of rich Russian pastry. And if we went to another section, we would have whatever that section had. And in the meantime, he’d explain.
All of a sudden, I began to feel like I was at home. And I recognised that my father had made this journey before me, because he too was an immigrant. And he came to a very harsh world and managed to somehow to cope and make it his home and give his love to it. And it dawned on me that this is what he’s trying to teach me.
And finally, I, too, because of the walks and because of him explaining things, he was driving back the fears that I had and I made new friends and gradually Brooklyn became even more important in my life than Hicksville ever could have.
I tell you this story, because there are people all around you who are alienated, afraid, they’re not acceptable maybe. Maybe it’s their own fault. We make judgments about them. And they’re walking. They all need someone like my father.
And I think this is what Mark is saying.
He’s saying, yes, Jesus reaches into the depths of the hearts of people who feel that they’re totally alone and isolated, they have nowhere to turn.
But what he does is, bringing us out and giving us a new way of looking at things, and giving us his peace and giving us his joy.
He doesn’t expect us to sit there and become like the others were.
He expects us to understand that this is the way God Himself reaches out to others.
Because if we do not reach out to the others, who in God’s name will?
So the message that Mark is saying is: yes, the Messiah has come; yes the Messiah cures; yes, the Messiah breaks down all barriers; and yes, you, in your neighbourhood, in your family, in your world, you are the messiah.
In this beautiful homily for 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Father Hanly looks at Jesus’ healing of the Leper.
Readings for Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
- First Reading: Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 32:1-2, 5, 11
- Second Reading: First Corinthians 10:31–11:1
- Gospel: Mark 1:40-45
I thought that I might begin today’s little homily with a word from a book that I have. It’s a small medical book and it’s very helpful at these times, because when we talk about leprosy these days it’s good from the very beginning to let you know how it’s looked upon by the medical profession and things like that.
Anyhow, “Leprosy” is the title of this, beginning: “An infectious disease of the skin, nervous system and mucous membranes caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae. It is transmitted via person to person contact.”
And for thousands of years leprosy was one of the world’s most feared communicable diseases, because the nerve and skin damage often led to terrible disfigurement, disability and death.
Today, leprosy can be cured, particularly if treatment is begun early. And the treatment of choice is many, but the main one is the MDT, a multi-drug therapy.
Also leprosy these days is known as Hansen’s disease, which seems a little bit more easy to swallow when you’re talking publicly and when you’re addressing people who are lepers, because even to this day the word leper has many levels of meaning.
I remember when I was a kid in Brooklyn, it was very common to say things like, “Why don’t you talk to me? I’m not a leper.” It was a kind of expression of something just a little bit more than an illness, but someone separated, an outcast, someone that was a piece of garbage, really.
In the old, old, old days, they were as kind as they could be. The lepers would gather together in one place and they would never be allowed to touch anyone who was without leprosy.
It must have been a terrible, terrible thing to wake up one day and find that you had leprosy, because in those days they had no cure. There was no hope. You were going to slowly rot away, with a bell around your neck to make sure that everybody heard you walking so they could run away when they heard the bell ringing. Or they had to shout before themselves, “Leper! A leper, I’m a leper,” at the top of their voices whenever they got close to a village or a town.
There was no hope in this. Other diseases, there was always a little hope, because the doctors knew a little more about them. But leprosy went on for centuries and it was just the rotting of a human being, day by day, sometimes, terrible to look at.
This might sound a little bit amusing, but Maryknoll Fathers were running a leper asylum in China, and this was the time the Communists won and they were sending all the missionaries away.
And there was one place in China that held on for a long time, because, whenever the authorities came to the Maryknoll mission, the Maryknoll Fathers put all the lepers out front by the gates as the welcoming committee to the poor soldiers that are supposed to get rid of the missionaries.
And they lasted for about another six months to a year, because everybody was frightened to death even to come near that mission.
And yet the missionaries were there all their lives and did a lot of good work. So part of the idea of leprosy was false: it was contagious, but not that contagious. If you caught it and you didn’t take care of it quickly, there was no hope for you.
I say all this because it’s very necessary to the parable.
Mark is a man of few words and he usually chooses them carefully and the incidents carefully.
He’s not interested in the disease of leprosy, because that’s not why he’s writing this book. He’s writing this book to show you that Jesus is the hope of the new world that has come down and beginning slowly to take hold and someday would be throughout the whole world, and it was Jesus as the healer.
So we begin today’s Gospel with:
A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said,
“If you wish, you can make me clean.”
This is very interesting. Number one is beggars were not allowed to come close to those who did not have this disease. And here this beggar, this leper, comes right up to Jesus and kneels down in front of him and begs him.
Jesus allows this. He allows him to come.
And what does he do?
Well, the poor man is kneeling down.
It’s not a sign as we do today: we kneel down in reverence.
Because, the Jews, only cowards knelt down and demanded things for mercy. You lived on your feet and you died on your feet.
I remember there was a Hemingway novel about the Spanish Uprising, and the young boy is trying to be very brave at the mountain top and he’s surrounded by the enemy, a little Spanish boy, and he cries out, scared to death, he says, “Better to die on your feet than serve on your knees!”
And that is the way they looked upon people who kind of begged kneeling down.
And then you can feel the anger in the leper in the next line, for the leper says,
“If you wish, you can make me clean.”
He doesn’t say, “Please, help me.” He said, “The only reason I’m this way is because you’re going to refuse to heal me, and I need to be healed. And you’re the only one that’s left and, if you wish, you can make me clean.”
Moved with pity…
Now that’s what Mark wants you to remember, Jesus was not moved to show off his powers — moved by pity and compassion and love.
And he says, right away, without any pause,
…. he stretched out his hand,
He touches him! To catch leprosy was a terrible thing, because you couldn’t be cured of it, and he actually embraces him and he
touched him, and said to him,
“I do will it.”
Not that I wish it, I will it.
And the man is made clean. And that’s the end of it.
It’s amazing. Here, in the middle of nowhere, with no reporters around, no large crowds, Jesus does something that even to this day we wonder where his power comes from.
He doesn’t say, “My Father, please bless me and help me to make a miracle.”
The man says to him, “If you wish, you can make me clean.”
And he says, “I wish? I don’t just wish, I will it.” And the man is clean.
And now Mark will step back and say, “It’s up to you to figure out who this man is.”
Is he just a prophet? Is he just a good preacher? Is he somebody who hangs around and has people writing articles about him to tell you what a wonderful person he is?
Nothing like that. Just the simple words, “I do will it. Be made clean,” and it happens.
The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.
Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once.
He said to him, “See that you tell no one anything,
but go, show yourself to the priest
and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed;
which is probably being a poor man, a poor leper, was two turtle doves or something, just an expression of thanksgiving, not to Jesus, but a thanksgiving to God Himself for being cured.
that will be proof for them.”
It will prove what?
It will prove another theme of Mark. It will prove that the presence of God is with them. That’s what they get out of this.
And Jesus says to him, “You have been made whole again.” That’s the reason for this.
There’s no show or display, but
The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter.
He spread the report abroad
so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.
Because everybody, now, they want to see the miracle, the wonder man, the sideshow. Everybody runs and wants to see, wow, this is really terrific.
And what has been buried under all of this is what Jesus said: “They will never understand until something else happens. I do not heal to show I am the Son of God. I heal because this poor man has no hope.”
And that’s why he tells the leper, he says, “Don’t tell anyone. Go to church and thank God and it’s over.”
Otherwise what happens, Jesus can no longer go free. He’s trapped by people who think it’s wonderful they have a new Messiah, and he’s here, and he’s going to save everything, and he’s going to take care of everything and everything’s going to be fine.
And Jesus knows what’s going to happen. They’re going to nail him to the cross, nail him to a cross and, in Mark, he’ll die screaming, “Why have you forsaken me?”
Think of that, think of that. We are not a group of people that are trying to get more and more and people to show that we’re better than everybody else. We’re not putting on sideshows.
We’re not trying to do anything except what?
The meaning that Mark tells us again and again is: “You are to be like him. You must go out and heal.”
The world needs healing. You are sent to heal. And forget the sideshows and who has more and who has less, and who is true and who is false. You just go out there and someone comes that needs help and you help them.
That’s the Kingdom of God: if someone needs help, you help them. Nothing else, nothing great, nothing less.
Have your miracles any way you want them. If you need a miracle, you get a miracle.
Because the person needs help, and the only way to help them as Jesus did was he said, in one voice, “I will it,” and it happens.
What happens to Jesus is that the people are now disappointed.
He is not going to organise them and build a fighting force to drive these Romans out of their country. He is not going to bring back the hope of King David, who brought a whole new country singlehanded through violence and power.
He is going to be always on the edges of other people’s lives. He is not going to invade them. He is just going to reach out and touch them.
Touching is very important. When Pope John Paul went to the United States and he was in, I think, Los Angeles, and the first place he asked to go to was an AIDS clinic.
Now I was fortunate, or unfortunate, to have an experience that I should share it with you and it’s this very briefly.
AIDS, as you know, was considered just like the disease of lepers, and largely because nobody knew anything about it and nobody knew how to cure it.
What they did when it came into Hong Kong, there was the first non-Chinese to die of AIDS was a Catholic and I was called by his wife during the last three months. And he was okay for a while, but then he was brought into the hospital.
But when he was brought into the hospital everybody on that ward was wearing armour almost. It seemed like a place where this man was invading this place and he was going to destroy all these nice nurses and doctors and everybody in there. So they set them out and put them in kind of suits that you see on television more than anyplace else.
And I was there with his son. And his son was just torn to bits, not only because his father was dying of AIDS, but because it was of AIDS and that, you remember, many people would say, “They deserve it!” And it was very common: “They deserve it. They deserve to die. What are you doing spending all this time and money and everything?”
And we’re sitting there and then we go in and I anoint him and say prayers over him.
And nobody was allowed in the room except me and him and these four big fellows, big guys with the suits on of armour or whatever.
And as soon as I had finished, I said to him, “Say goodbye to your father.” And he walked over and kissed him and he walked away.
And then these four men just took him in like a piece of garbage. They just wrapped him up in this rubber stuff and just wrapped him up and threw it down the chute and out, out into the car and down to…
The family was not allowed to go. The family was not allowed to do anything. Everybody was so frightened of what it was. Then later, of course, we all felt terrible.
And I would say this about the hospital: within six weeks or less, it was the best place in the hospital for sick people.
The nurses did not wear nurse’s costumes, but they wore ordinary clothing. The families who came and were kept outside, were allowed in. And the nurses dealt with their loss and they knew how to reach out to them and take care of them, and feed them little sandwiches and make them feel that their sons, who were dying of this terrible thing were worthwhile.
And it became the best floor in the hospital for care, for concern, for reaching out, not only to the men who were dying, but also reaching out to their families, who were stunned and couldn’t understand this strange new disease.
Jesus had to say and be angry with the man that was cured, he had to say it.
If he didn’t say it, he would be giving the impression that to become a Christian is to avoid and ignore all pain, run away from life, because life can hurt you.
And he had to do that in the only way that they could understand – they arrested him for the mock trial, condemned him, nailed him to a cross.
And only then did people understand that the way to salvation is through pain that does not give up but reaches out in kindness and in need to other people.
And it was this that made Jesus the Saviour of the world, hanging on a cross and saying at the moment of dying, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”
And today, if you go into a situation where you see helplessness and hopelessness and all of that, it is still the message of Jesus. But it is Jesus who knows what it is to die on a cross and to give his life out of love.
Because the whole meaning of this story, which is so wonderful and so small, and yet when you go back and read it again, you will know the only hope is self-sacrificing love, and that is what changes the world.
It changes the world, why?
Because out of pain, God brings redemption. And this is the way it once was and this is the way it will always be.
And so today, when we think of all the things and people who need our help in small and very big ways, we think of them, we are all one.
And in the end, it was Jesus of this story — which is very funny — Jesus is the outcast and it is the man who is cured who is probably having a nice supper at home with his friends.
Think about these things, because these stories will creep up on you and you will begin to realise that the world is full of wonder.
But the greatest wonder that the world is full of, is the presence of a compassionate loving Jesus, who is the representative of the Father Himself.
And as long as we walk in that path, there will be nothing to fear, and only praise, glory and everlasting life at the end of this journey.
FAQ for Homily for 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
|When is 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, in 2021?||14th February 2021|
|What is the title of Father Hanly’s homily for Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B?||"Alienation" and "The Leper"|
|What is the next homily by Father Hanly in this Liturgical Cycle? ||1st Sunday of Lent, Year B|
|Who was Father Hanly?||Father Denis J. Hanly was a Maryknoll Missionary|
|How can we find other homilies by Father Hanly?||By Liturgical Calendar or by topic or by title|
Information about Father Hanly’s homilies for 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
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Father Hanly's sermon for 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, "Alienation" was delivered on 15th February 2009. Father Hanly's sermon for 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, "The Leper" was delivered on 12th February 2012. It is sometimes hard to accurately transcribe Father Hanly's reflections, so please let us know if you think we have made a mistake in any of our transcripts, and let us have your suggestions.
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