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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - Don't Be Afraid to Ask

Robert Barron - Don't Be Afraid to Ask

Robert Barron - Don't Be Afraid to Ask

Peace be with you. Friends, our Gospel for this weekend is that marvelous story from the Gospel of Mark, of Jesus healing a man with leprosy. But to get the visceral power of this story, we have to follow the Church's recommendation and read this Gospel in the light of our first reading, which is from the book of Leviticus. Now, I would dare say the book of Leviticus is probably the least read book of Sacred Scripture. Now, that's too bad. It's actually quite interesting, and a lot of the Church Fathers were very interested in the book of Leviticus. Look at Origen, the greatest biblical interpreter of ancient times. Did a whole series of detailed homilies on Leviticus. That might be for another time. But generally speaking Leviticus is the holiness code of ancient Israel. I mean all these prescriptions,moral, juridical, ceremonial, purity laws, etc, by which Israel defined itself as a people.

So in Leviticus, you hear about how to make correct sacrifice, you have liturgical laws, but also a lot of talk about clean and unclean animals, the kind of foods you can eat, all of the things that define the peculiar behavior of this particular people. It's probably easy enough for us today to look back with a certain condescension at the book of Leviticus, like all these primitive superstitions. But, I don't know; every people, from ancient times to the present day, has something similar. I mean, certain forms of behavior that are proscribed and recommended, you don't think we have those? Take a look at our politically correct culture. Things you can and can't say, words you can and can't use. Or, you don't think we have clean and unclean foods? Pick up any health magazine. You're going to see a lot of talk about things you can and things you can't eat etc.

So, my point is, Leviticus is really not all that egregious. It's the way ancient Israel understood itself as a people. Well, here's why it matters for our reading today, is part of Leviticus is a great concern for diseases of the skin. For obvious reasons, ancient peoples who didn't really understand the organic structure of the body and germs and viruses and cancers and so on, but they could see things on the outside of the body. And so they were concerned about diseases like skin problems. And so, monitoring that, recommending things in regard to it, seeing people as clean or unclean because of these diseases was a major concern of the book of Leviticus. And we hear now some of the concerns about leprosy, and I mean that term in kind of a broad sense, not what we mean by the term today. But they meant these contagious skin problems in general. We hear today that lepers were required to move outside of the camp.

Again, as I record these words, we're still in the middle of the COVID pandemic. So we know today about quarantining and keeping people at a certain remove; that's not too unusual. But they were also required to shout "Unclean, unclean" if someone came close to them. And more to it, they were excluded from the liturgical life of the community, which was probably the most devastating part of the exclusion. They were outside of the community, and the community's worship of God. And if I can press it, it was probably seen by ancient Israel as to some degree a curse from God. So all of that around leprosy, all that coming up out of the book of Leviticus, is the background for our story today, and why people seeing this, those who actually witnessed Jesus healing the leper and those hearing the story, would have been so impressed by it. It would have struck them as very strange.

So listen as the account begins. "A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, 'If you wish, you can make me clean.'" Now, there's several things here that are really interesting. Notice how, in the book of Leviticus, the leper is told to go to the temple, to go to the priests. Well, he's not going to the temple. This man is going right to Jesus. Now, this is the same Jesus who said, in regard to himself, "You've got a greater than the temple here". The temple was seen as the place where divinity and humanity met. Now this man with leprosy understands: Jesus is now the place where divinity and humanity meet. He is now holy ground. He is now the sacred space. Moreover, watch how this man appeals directly to the will of Jesus. "If you want to, you can make me clean". In the book of Leviticus, the priests are there to analyze someone and to make a judgment, like "You've not been cured" or "You have been cured".

The priests weren't doing the curing; rather, it was God, it was God's will. So this man, clearly acknowledging that Jesus has the authority and the power to cleanse him. Please don't believe people that say the divinity of Jesus is not emphasized in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Some people, this is true when I was going through school, there was a tendency to say, "Sure, in the Gospel of John, the divinity of Jesus is declared, but not in the synoptic Gospels". Nonsense. Nonsense. Once we know how to read those synoptic Gospels correctly, and this one example among many, we see the divinity of Jesus clearly emphasized. "Lord, if you will it, your will and the divine will are coming together".

An extraordinary statement. It would have taken the breath away of those who heard this exchange or read about it. Further, by coming into direct contact with Jesus, not keeping his distance, not shouting "Unclean, unclean," which he was ordered to do by the book of Leviticus, this man was committing a rather outrageous faux pas. He was putting Jesus in danger of contamination. That's why a leper was meant to keep his distance. But this man comes right up to the Lord, kneels down, and asks him. Well now, make a little transposition here, everybody, from the physical order to the spiritual order. I think a lot of us feel just this way in regard to Jesus. What I mean is, a lot of us feel that our sin, whatever it is, our sin has made us so unclean that we are ostracized from the community. We feel unclean, unclean. We have no right to be with the community, much less with Jesus. Can we see in this man, in this beautiful example, can we see in this man the correct spiritual attitude? He's not going to make Jesus unclean. I mean, he intuits that.

Again, he's not dealing with just an ordinary human being. He's dealing with the one who is God. So he knows, my leprosy isn't going to make him unclean. In fact, my contact with him is going to make me clean. See everybody, fellow sinners, listen to me. This is the attitude we all should have vis-à-vis the Lord Jesus. We're not going to make him unclean by our sin. I think I've said this before in sermons: it's the saddest thing I think I ever hear as a priest when someone says to me, "Oh Father, I mean, God could never forgive me for this thing that I've done". Nonsense. We don't make God unclean; rather, by our contact with him, we become cleansed. See, that's the lesson now from this beautiful story. We're meant to approach Jesus with the same confidence that this man shows. How beautiful, too, at that wonderful moment of encounter, instead of recoiling in horror, as any Israelite would trained in the book of Leviticus… A leper comes to you and kneels down and reaches out to you?

Well, you'd recoil. And you'd be correct in doing so according to Leviticus. But Jesus doesn't recoil. What does he say? "Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand" and "touched him". And now, we're going to miss that. We'll say, "Oh yeah, sure, Jesus". No, no; that was radical stuff. For a leper kneeling before you, to touch him, that was against every, every prescription. He touches him and says, "I do will it. Be clean". Now, listen, fellow sinners, listen to me. This is what we're meant to hear. Every one of us. "Lord, if you want to, you can make me clean". Now, read it physically. There's a dimension of that in the Church's life. We pray for physical healing. But read it maybe more fundamentally at the spiritual level. We all come to the Lord with our sins. "Lord, if you want to, you can make me clean". "Well, of course I want to"! That's his whole purpose in coming. "I've not come for the healthy; I've come for the sick. I've come that you might have life and have it to the full. Of course I will it"!

And, may I say now, this is the Church at its best. Now, the Church is full of flawed people. God knows. But at its best, the Church embodies precisely this outreach of the Lord Jesus. This is the sacramental life of the Church. It's the Church's way of saying, "Of course I will it". When someone comes for Baptism, someone comes for Reconciliation, someone comes for the Eucharist, someone comes for Confirmation, someone comes for the Anointing of the Sick, the Church is the voice of Jesus saying, "Of course I will it. Be made clean". Beautiful. Don't be afraid of that. Don't say, "Unclean, unclean. I'm unworthy". No, no; you're not going to make Jesus unclean. Rather, he's going to make you clean by this contact. And then, finally, look how beautifully this little passage is crafted. And this is a typical rhythm in the Gospels. Look how it ends. Having been cured, "the man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad".

You know what that's called? That's called evangelization. That's called the sharing of Good News. Notice: he's sharing the good news that Jesus has cured him. I do evangelization as part of my job. So I get the importance of thinking things through, and using philosophy and theology and apologetics, all that is important. But see, at the heart of evangelization, everybody, is this: it's sharing an experience of the power of Christ. If it's just arguments, that can strike people as empty words. Rather, the greatest evangelist is the one who says, "I've been healed by my contact with this Jesus. And now I want you to have the same experience".

You know that definition, the famous one, about evangelization, is one starving person telling another where to find bread. Now, that's someone that truly evangelizes. One sick person, one person who is unclean spiritually, but who has found salvation, that word just means healing, has found salvation in Christ, and now wants the whole world to know about it. Now, that's somebody who's going to evangelize powerfully and from the heart. How were you cured by Christ? Let everybody know about it. I spoke last week about making evangelization central to your life. That's a way to do it. Identify the place in your life where you knelt before Christ, and you said, "Lord, I'm unclean. But if you will it, I can be made clean". And you heard, through the voice of the Church now, and you heard, "I do will it. Be clean". Share that with the world, and you'll truly evangelize. And God bless you.
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