Opening the Word: Outcast no more

Last week, we heard about the nature of illness, the way that it cuts one off from relationship with the broader community. Christ has come into the world to heal humanity of illness and death, to bring us back into relationship with God and each other.

Leprosy is illness to the tenth power. To be a leper is to bear visible markers of one’s uncleanness for all of Israel to see. The one who is unclean cannot enter the Temple. The one who is unclean cannot be with his family. The one who is unclean is an outcast, living in a tent outside the city.

It is also likely that one would view this sickness as the result of the personal sins of this man or woman. Not only are they excluded from the community, but also they are blamed for their exclusion.

Thus, when a leper approaches our Lord, asking that he be made clean, it’s not just about a healing from leprosy. The man is asking that he be brought back into the sheepfold of Israel. He is asking that he might return to right relationship with his family. He is begging for divine mercy, for the forgiveness of sin.

And our Lord responds to this leper’s request. He heals with the power of his word. He heals immediately.

But Jesus warns the man, “See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them” (Mk 1:44).

Why would Jesus warn this man not to tell anyone? In the Gospel of Mark, it’s easy to read Jesus’ miracles as magical works alone. We can imagine that the healing that Jesus comes to offer is reducible to signs and wonders.

But it’s not. The healing that Jesus Christ offers to the leper is a sign that the kingdom of God is at hand. Demons will be defeated. No one will be excluded from the kingdom of God, but each and every outcast will be brought into the divine city.

Only with Jesus’ death and resurrection can one read the Gospel in this manner. Thus throughout the Gospel of Mark, Jesus warns his disciples and those he healed to tell no one. Wait, he exhorts, until all is revealed upon the cross.

For us contemporary readers of this text, we don’t need to wait. The fullness of time has come. We can proclaim God’s wonderful works to all the world.

Yet like our Lord, we must begin with those who are on the margins, those who are outcasts.

To the young man or woman suffering from depression, we must walk alongside them offering them God’s very love.

To the homeless, we must open our homes, our wallets, and our lives, sharing with them a communion we both long for.

To those who suffer the effects of racism, we must bear witness to a love that sees all human beings as created in the image and likeness of God.

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To the unborn, we must advocate for their lives and well-being in the public sphere, no matter the cost.

These are the men and women on our margins. As those who know the healing possibilities of divine love, we must run forth to share this love with our excluded brothers and sisters.

For the Good News of Jesus Christ is that there are no more outcasts. Every man and woman is meant to participate in the kingdom of God.

And that’s the Gospel that our Lord came to announce.

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D., is the managing director of the McGrath Institute for Church Life.