Thursday, February 12, 2015

Homily at Holy Spirit Catholic Community 6 OT, Feb. 15, 2015 by Beverly Bingle, RCWP

That reading from Leviticus
has two verses from the beginning of the chapter,
then skips 42 verses,
and ends with three verses from the middle of the chapter.
The five verses we heard today focus on leprosy,
leaving out some very important background
in the 42 in between.
The word we translate as leprosy is the Hebrew word tzaraath,
which can refer, in addition to scaly or blotchy skin or hair,
to stains on cloth or leather,
or even fungi on the stones of people’s houses.
Sometimes it does refer to a skin disease,
but in every case it’s a spiritual illness
that shows up as a physical problem.
The blotch or fungus or mold or scab
is understood as divine punishment
for failure to feel the needs and share the hurt of others—
in short, a failure to be compassionate,
which breaks the biblical law
and makes them ritually impure.
People afflicted with tzaraath
were required to wear torn clothes,
stop grooming their hair,
cover the lower part of their face,
cry out unclean—that is, ritually impure—
and live away from other people.
The isolation was mainly due to concerns
about the risk of moral corruption to other people,
not about a contagious disease.
So what’s going on here in Mark’s gospel?
A man gets a skin blotch or a scab
because he broke a religious law,
and he comes to Jesus and is healed.
Parishes around our diocese
have penance services with private confessions each Lent.
Pastoral Associates I’ve talked with
tell me that they sit in the back pew during these services
and are invariably approached by a parishioner
with a question about going to confession—
what to do, what would happen
when they told the priest what they did or didn’t do,
what to say if they didn’t really have anything to confess.
Everything from “I missed Mass when I was sick”
to “I went to communion even though I’m divorced”
to “I’m not really sorry for what I did.”
They talk to the parishioners about what the church’s rule really is,
or tell them how to make a “confession of devotion”
and encourage them to go to the priest for the sacrament.
When I hear Mark’s story about Jesus and the leper,
I think of those people,
slipping quietly into the back of the church,
hunched over in the pew
whispering their fear of having violated a law
that would keep them from communion.
Ritually unclean.
Then a listening ear
and a word of acceptance
lets them know that God loves them,
over and above everything else,
so they do not need to fear—
God made them,
and God pronounced them good.
That’s the Good News,
so go to the priest and tell your story.
That scene will be repeated in parishes throughout the world
again this Lent,
with a happy ending for today’s lepers
when they find a priest with a listening ear and a loving heart.
It won’t be a happy ending for some, though,
who will tell their story
and find themselves condemned for who they are,
like folks in a committed same-sex relationship;
or chastised for a wise and life-giving decision,
like divorcing an abusive spouse;
or denounced for acting on what they believe is right,
like taking birth control pills.
Mark tells us that the leper was immediately made clean—
restored to wholeness
from whatever spiritual affliction had caused the tzaraath. Jesus
reaches out in compassion,
and the man is healed.
These days scientists are telling us that kindness heals.
When health care workers treat patients with kindness,
their wounds heal faster;
they suffer less pain;
their anxiety and their blood pressure go down;
they get out of the hospital more quickly.
People who have strong social ties—
people who spend time with family or friends or neighbors,
people who go bowling or play cards
or work the Blockwatch or volunteer to tutor—
those folks live longer and recover from illness faster
than those who are socially isolated.
This weekend I signed us up
for the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions’
National Preach-In on Global Warming.
I promised to preach on care for creation.
So you’re thinking that I haven’t mentioned our Tree Toledo project.
I haven’t said a word about reduce-reuse-recycle.
I haven’t suggested that you should have ridden your bike to Mass
through this bitter cold and snow.
You’re right.
What I have done, though, is talk about
caring for the human part of God’s creation—us.
We are all of us the people of God,
and many among us are suffering.
The hungry don’t have a choice
about whether they eat organic grass-fed beef or pink slime.
The homeless don’t have a choice
about turning down the thermostat or planting a tree.
The jobless don’t have a choice
about donating to charity.
The alone and lonely don’t have a choice
about getting healthy faster.
We have choices, though.
We can reach out
to people who are hungry, homeless, jobless, or lonely.
We can help feed them,
help them have homes and jobs,
befriend them.
Hungry people can’t hear sermons;
they aren’t going to care
about the impact of global warming on their grandchildren
if they don’t know where their kids’ next meal is coming from.
Yes, we’ll plant lots of trees in the next five years.
We’ll examine and re-examine our lifestyles
to see how we can reduce our carbon footprint.
We’ll monitor legislation, and we’ll petition for action.
We’ll do our best to mitigate climate change
so future generations will survive and thrive.
In Jesus’ time global warming was not an urgent issue;
it wasn’t an issue at all.
Poverty and oppression were the problem.
They still are the problem,
and we still are called to follow his Way
in the basic care for creation—
tending the spirits and minds and bodies
of the poorest among us.
Our Tree Toledo project cares for the future of all God’s creation.
The same values that motivate us to plant trees for the future
motivate us to act now with kindness and compassion,
loving our family and friends and community,
following the Way of our brother Jesus.

Holy Spirit Catholic Community
at 3535 Executive Parkway (Unity of Toledo)
Saturdays at 4:30 p.m.
Sundays at 5:30 p.m.

Rev. Dr. Bev Bingle, Pastor

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