daily biblical sermons


Jesus transforms our life by a simple word of command
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Thursday, First Week of the Year, January 16, 2020
1 Samuel 4:1-11, Psalm 43, Mark 1:40-45


Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

 

 

“And a leper came to him [Jesus] beseeching him, and kneeling said to him, ‘If you will, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, he [Jesus] stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean” (Mark 1:40-42).

 

 

Leprosy was a terrible disease, causing the body to slowly rot, and toes and even hands and feet dying and needing to be removed. But in addition to the physical aspect of this disease, which in Jesus day was believed to be highly contagious, it also had a profound impact on a person’s whole life, for he was shunned from society, for people feared that they would catch it by contact. So the leper was not allowed to live in a town, not allowed to enter a synagogue or the temple to pray, not allowed to join in any social events or social life, but had to live in a dwelling apart from other people.

 

 

Leviticus tells us what a leper’s life was like, and this, it seems, was true also in Jesus’ day. “The leper who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean; he shall dwell alone in a habitation outside the camp” (Leviticus 13:45-46).

 

 

We can only imagine what such a life must have been like; certainly it was a lonely life. His only companions were other lepers in a similar condition, excluded like him from society, and living in desert places. Presumably family members would leave off food for them.

 

 

But now suddenly this leper, who it seems had surely heard about the great miracle worker Jesus who had cured so many people, comes up to Jesus and kneeling before him, says, “‘If you will, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, he [Jesus] stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately the leprosy left him and he was made clean” (Mark 1:40-42).

 

 

This is the gospel reading assigned to today’s Eucharistic celebration, which many priests will use as a point of departure for a brief weekday homily that should be of spiritual benefit to the people attending his Mass. So what should a priest say today that will be helpful to people seeking to live a life of faith and seeking guidance and spiritual strength not only from the Eucharist but also from a faith-filled spiritual reflection on today’s gospel?

 

 

I believe that most of our homilies should be gospel homilies, not meaning that they should always be based on the gospel, for St. Paul’s writings are also extremely useful, but meaning that they should be based on the good news of salvation, which is the original meaning of the word “gospel” (euangelion in Greek).

 

 

So what is the good news of our salvation in Jesus Christ from the perspective of Jesus’ cure of this leper? It is that we should see ourselves in some sense as lepers coming and begging Jesus to make us clean. What is it that we need to be made clean of? We need to be cleansed of our sins, for example sins of thought or of seeing things in our daily environment that are less than helpful to our spirit and hence that will later depress us and cause us sadness and sorrow instead of joy and heavenly peace in our heart. This sorrow and depression of spirit is how God indicates to us what we should avoid in order to avoid losing his heavenly peace and experiencing depression instead.

 

 

I am speaking about sorrow for our sins, even for the sins of thought or of seeing unhelpful things in our daily environment that depress our spirit, because they are in some way improper. Who can cure us of this illness of the spirit? We cannot cure ourselves of it. We can try to cheer ourselves up by mixing with other people, but this only temporarily distracts us, and we soon return to our state of sorrow and depression in which we feel alienated from God rather than reconciled with him, in which we feel crippled in our spirit rather than filled with heavenly peace.

 

 

God sent us a Redeemer, his only Son Jesus Christ, precisely to free us from this alienation from God and to once again reconcile us with him by atoning for our sins and making reparation for them on the cross. He came to be our substitute to suffer our punishment for our sins for us, in our place, so that we would not have to suffer it, and could instead be fully reconciled with God and filled with heavenly peace and joy in the Lord.

 

 

To experience this liberation, this cleansing of our spirits from sin, even from small sins, which is analogous to the cleansing of this leper’s body and whole life, reintegrating him into society, we need to come to the Savior that God has sent us, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, and genuinely repent of our failures, mistakes, and sins, and promise that we will immediately amend our ways, correct our errors, and be more careful in the future, and then we must put our full trusting faith in Jesus Christ and his atoning death on the cross for our sins.

 

 

Such repentance and seeking God’s salvation is most effectively done within the sacrament of reconciliation (John 20:22-23), and the difference it makes in our experience of life is like the difference made in this leper’s life by Jesus’ saving touch, when he said to him, “‘Be clean.’ And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean” (Mark 1:41-42). This is what Jesus wants to do to us if only we would come to him with fully repentant hearts, sincerely confess our sins, and trust in the merits of his atoning, reparation-making death on the cross for our sins, for “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3).

 

 

Most Catholics know the deeply satisfy experience of using the sacrament of reconciliation, whereby the justifying declaration of God the Father is made and transmitted to a repentant sinner, when he genuinely repents, confesses his sins, and promises to avoid these sins in the future. The priest then absolves him through the merits of Christ’s death and resurrection. The person then leaves the sacrament with a deep sigh of relief, for a heavy burden has been lifted off his chest, and the light of a new spiritual day once again shines on him.

 

 

I say most Catholics know this experience very well and treasure this sacrament, but most Catholics do not understand how it is that Jesus saves us from our sins. It is important that they also know this, for even many Catholic theologians deliberately ignore the New Testament theology of salvation, which is primarily developed by St. Paul. This is a defect in their faith and teaching that needs to be corrected. It is not proper to set aside the theology of salvation of the New Testament and then try to invent your own theology of salvation that has little direct connection with God’s revelation in the Scriptures. This is a mistaken way of doing theology. Some people even do a theology of St. Paul and ignore St. Paul’s doctrine of salvation, because they don’t like it. This is hardly an adequate presentation of St. Paul’s theology.

 

 

St. Paul provides us with a great theology of mission, precisely because of his theology of salvation which missionaries bring to all the nations of the world. If we ignore this and if we are missionaries, what do we bring to the world, some man-made theology with little basis in the Scriptures while ignoring the biblically revealed theology of salvation, namely that developed by St. Paul? This is hardly an adequate way to understand and do Christian mission.

 

 

So what is the New Testament theology of salvation that so many Catholics and even today some Protestants – mostly liberal Protestants – try very hard to ignore, or worse still to deny or just never mention, never preach, and never communicate to anyone? This theology can be expressed in terms of Jesus’ cure of the leper by saying that Jesus transforms our life just as he transformed this leper’s life. He removes from us the leprosy of our sins, something that we cannot do to ourselves, that we cannot psychologically talk ourselves out of, because that simply doesn’t work.

 

 

How does Jesus remove the leprosy of sin from our lives and restore us to God’s favor, love, heavenly peace, and spiritual joy? He does so by his atoning death on the cross for our sins, whereby he made full reparation for them, as our substitute, vicariously suffering our death sentence for our sins for us so that we would not have to suffer it in hell after death or even in this life in the sadness that cripples our spirit because of our guilt for our sins.

 

 

Jesus is the sacrifice for sins that truly takes our sins away by suffering our death penalty for our sins for us so that all that genuinely repent and put their trusting faith in his saving act on the cross will be declared righteous by God, and will thereby become righteous indeed, for God’s word accomplishes what it says. God the Father will then reckon his own righteousness to us, because of our faith, and so we will shine with the righteousness of God, something that we receive as a gift by faith, not something that we earned by our good works.

 

 

This happens to us when we genuinely repent, stop sinning, and intend to immediately amend our life, and when we confess our sins and put our trusting faith in Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross that wins our redemption, overcomes our alienation from God, and reconciles us once again with him in heavenly peace and spiritual joy. So we are then like the cured leper who is once again reconciled with his family, neighbors, and people, and even with his God, for he is now allowed to worship in the temple and in the synagogues. Jesus indeed restores our life.

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