Liturgical Colour : Green
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday we commemorate the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, the Marian apparition to St. Bernadette Soubirous in what is now famous as the pilgrimage site of Lourdes in southern part of France. The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God appeared to the young St. Bernadette Soubirous, calling mankind to repentance and to be forgiven from their sins, by sincerely turning away from their past wickedness and embrace God’s mercy.
And during those apparitions, the Blessed Virgin showed St. Bernadette the place of a spring which gushed forth from the ground, and have ever since been gushing out water, which is holy and blessed, and have for the past one and a half century since the apparition, shown miraculous properties, and healed many of those who came to visit Lourdes on pilgrimage. Pope St. John Paul II himself went on a pilgrimage to Lourdes just a year before his passing, having long suffered from his illnesses.
That is why it is all the more fitting that today’s Scripture passages match so well with the occasion of the World Day of Prayer for the Sick, celebrated every year on the eleventh day of February, the commemoration of Our Lady of Lourdes as mentioned earlier. In the first reading today we heard what God instructed to Moses and Aaron with regards to the disease most feared in those days, namely leprosy, while in the Gospel passage today, we heard the Lord Jesus Himself healing a leper.
In the Old Testament, God gave to Moses the laws which He had established to be followed and obeyed by the people, which included many aspects of societal life, including what to be done when a person fell ill with diseases, in particular leprosy, which was likely a highly contagious version of the leprosy as we know it today, easily spreading from one person to another, unless certain measures were taken to prevent the outbreak of a pandemic.
Understanding the Law which God has passed on to Moses require us to look carefully into what had happened at that time, the historical and societal background of the Israelites at the time when the laws were given to them. At that time, Israel were travelling on the long journey from Egypt towards the Promised Land, travelling in a desert where staying together in a closely knitted community would be essential to survival.
Wandering off alone in the desert would bring about great risks to the people, who could end up getting lost or struck by predators without being able to get the necessary help. However, staying close together in camps and tents within the community of Israel at the time, which numbered in the hundreds of thousands if not more, exposed the whole community to great risk of disease outbreak.
That is the reason why God made the rule for the occasion such that, all those who contracted contagious disease such as leprosy were obliged to leave the camp and live outside the community until his disease and all of its symptoms have been healed. Otherwise many more people in the community would be infected by the contagious disease, and many more would have suffered.
Yet, this did not mean that those lepers who were obliged to live outside the community were forgotten. God did include the rule that should their condition improved and their disease were cured, they would be able to return to the community of the people of Israel, after having presented themselves to the priests who would then judge whether the person was to be allowed to return or not.
In the Gospel passage today, it is evident that whatever the practices were during the time of Jesus, it was no different from the practices at the time of Moses. The lepers were feared and shunned, just as it was in the past, forced to live away from the people and outside of the community until they were able to show that they have recovered from their leprosy. And it was on that occasion mentioned in the Gospel passage today that Jesus met one of those lepers who asked Him to heal him.
Indeed, He had mercy on the man and healed him from his leprosy. That is what God truly wanted with His people, for He loves each and every one of them without exception, equally and without prejudice. That was why He wanted them to be healed from their pains and sufferings, including the stigma and suffering caused by the leprosy the man and many others contracted.
This is what each of us should know, brothers and sisters in Christ, that we are all afflicted and sick. We may be perfectly healthy in the physique and the body, and we may be surprised that truly, we are all sick at the moment. You may not believe what I have just said, but what I meant is that, we are sick because of our unworthiness, our wicked actions, our disobedience against God and therefore, our sins.
Sin is the culprit for all of our sufferings and sorrows, ever since mankind first fell into sin, beginning with our first ancestors, Adam and Eve, who failed to resist the temptations of Satan. Sin is therefore a disease that strike at our soul, at the very depths and innermost part of our beings. If we are not careful, sin will eventually swallow us up entirely, just as we can succumb to the diseases that strike at our flesh and body. And sin is much worse than any of our physical illnesses, as sin defiles everything and destroys everything.
Parallel to what we have discussed earlier about the treatment of those who fell ill with leprosy, forced to live outside of the community of the Israelites until they were healed, and certified as such by the priests, then it is not different at all with all of us mankind, who suffer from the disease of the soul, that is our sins. If we read the Book of Genesis, surely we would have remembered how Adam and Eve, our ancestors, were driven out of the gardens of Eden, from the presence of God, because they have sinned against God.
Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us reflect and ask ourselves this question, ‘What is it that we want from God?’ and ‘Do we want to be healed by God?’. These questions serve as reminders for us that in our sickened state, and as we suffer the consequences of our disobedience in this world, we are indeed in need of healing, and that we are not in a good condition at all.
Unfortunately, many of us are too proud to admit that we have been wrong, that we are in need of help and assistance. We refused to listen to God speaking to us in our hearts and through those who we encounter in life, and many of us stubbornly continued on in our way of life, filled with sin, with greed and desires of the world, with violence and jealousy for one another, and all sorts of things that kept us away from reconciliation with God.
Yet, we are fortunate to have God Who is ever and always kind and loving towards us, Who is always ever generous with His mercy and forgiveness. His arms are always open towards us, waiting for us to return to His embrace that we may be fully reconciled with Him. But to be able to be fully reconciled with God, we must be willing to listen to Him and follow His ways, the examples through which He showed us to guide us to Him.
Let us all look at the action of the man whom Jesus had healed from his leprosy. Jesus strictly told him not to tell anyone that it was He Who healed him from his illness, but the man went on regardless, telling everyone that it was Jesus Who healed him. As a result, the people shunned Jesus and the priests made it very difficult for Jesus and His disciples to work among the people, barring Him from their towns and cities.
This was because they must have heard how Jesus approached the leper and touched him in order to heal him, which was taboo according to the laws of Moses. In a sense, God made Himself ‘unclean’ in the eyes of the law in order to make the man clean, and it was to that extent that He was willing to do, in order to care for mankind, to love us and to embrace us sinners.
God knew best what was to be done, and that was why He told the man not to tell anyone about what He had done. But it was likely the man’s pride and hubris that made him to falter, as if he had told the priests he was healed naturally as Jesus told him to do, that would be entirely ordinary and usual. Instead, while it was not mentioned in the Gospel passage, but from our human experiences, it is likely that the man told everyone because being healed in such a miraculous way is something to be boasted and proud about.
And that is exactly how mankind fell into sin, when we start to put the ‘I’ or the ‘We’ ahead of everything else. Pride, ambition, hubris, jealousy, desire, and all these other obstacles to our good and loving relationship with God which will result in our downfall. It is therefore important for us all to realise that we are in need of God’s healing and mercy, because all of us are unworthy, sinners and delinquents.
Let us all learn to distance ourselves from all of those obstacles I have mentioned just earlier, the obstacle of pride, of greed, of human ambition and worldly greed and many more. Let us desire to be healed and to be reconciled fully with God, through genuine conversion and change of heart, abandoning our past sinful ways and embracing fully God’s generous and everlasting love for us all.
Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us all, pray for us who are physically sick, and also all of us who are sinners, sick of this disease of the soul, our sins, that we may seek your Son, to be healed and to be made whole once again through our faith in Him. May God bless us always, now and forevermore. Amen.