Diocese of Derry


6 minutes reading time (1213 words)

Homily - Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Bishop McKeown


Sunday, 14 February 2021 

In our Gospel readings from St Mark, Jesus continues to set the tone of his mission. He has already cast out devils and brought healing of mind and body to many people. Now he is faced with a leper who encounters him. This passage also appears in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. That indicates that this was not just one more story among many. Rather it was so significant that the early Church was still speaking about it decades later and wanted future generations to know about it. What does it say about Christ's ongoing mission in 2021?

Firstly, Jesus is faced with a challenge. The exclusion of lepers from society was based on a genuine fear of the disease spreading. That precaution we understand very well in our own time of pandemic. But Jesus not only engaged with the leper who was called 'unclean'. He also touched him. That was significant for someone who was told that he belonged to the unclean, the untouchables. Jesus recognises a person and not just a class of outcast to be feared. Jesus then orders him to go to the local clergy so that he can be reintegrated into the community. And part of that integration involves offering a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God. Jesus is concerned with healing the whole person in all his relationships – with himself, his society and God. Holiness and wholeness are intimately linked. As Pope Francis pointed out in his Message for World Day of the Sick, Jesus heals not by magic but as the result of an encounter, an interpersonal relationship, in which God's gift finds a response in the faith of those who accept it. [1]

There are many people in our society who feel left out. Some bear deep scars from childhood where they were abused or sensed that they were unwanted or lesser than others. Many children have borne the lifelong effects of the disapproval that was heaped on their parents. Poverty, disability, skin colour can all limit how other see them and how people see themselves. Social and educational structures can reinforce this. Sometimes those who felt unclean or different sensed rejection by church, community and those to whom they turned for help. Jesus was not prim and proper. We have to resist any temptation to be closer to the Pharisees than to the Prophet from Galilee. Christ's mission was to those who most needed mercy and forgiveness. We are in danger of failing Jesus if we think of the church as an exclusive marina for the spiritually privileged rather than as a safe harbour for the storm-tossed.

Secondly, it is important to see the effects of this healing on Jesus. The lepers were those who had to stay away from the community. The Gospel tells us that, following this miracle, Jesus ends up being the one who has to stay outside where nobody lived. He becomes an outsider with the outsiders. Later he will be flogged and die, crucified as a criminal with criminals - and, what is even harder to take on board, that is how Jesus will save the world.

Church has always been at its best when it got its hands dirty. The great founders of religious congregations and movements were people who went to those whom nobody else wanted to touch. Every generation has had its Mother Teresa who picked up the dying and discarded from the gutters. Like Jesus, these great heroes were not concerned with being unable to save the world. They simply wanted to deal with the individual that they saw in front to them. The saints are those who are prepared to be unpopular because they stand up for those whom society is prepared to discard or despise. The Church will be remade by Christ when we go beyond condemning those who sin and walk with them in love that they might be healed. Piety without uncomfortable outreach will never heal in Jesus' name

Thirdly, by touching him, Jesus takes the leper's body seriously. The sacramental life of the Church is meant to be a continuation of that ministry. We can bear in our bodies the pain of abuse, rejection and self-loathing. The modern cultural approach to the creation and disposal of human life and the marketing of human intimacy can be reflected in a medicalization of all sickness. As Pope Francis pointed out, illness can make us all feel vulnerable, frightened and bewildered. It is one thing to heal physical wounds. It is equally important to engage with the trauma caused by what often caused those wounds whether they were inflicted by somebody else of self-inflicted. Our rich sacramental tradition takes the whole person seriously. Thus, the sacraments need to be celebrated not as a wordy magic ritual but as a work of Christ who wishes to heal and nourish the leper in each one of us, so that we can discover the respect that Jesus has for each of us. The culmination of all worship is the celebration of The Eucharist where we are gathered into the presence of the Jesus who was crucified because he bore our sin and shame. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is closer to standing at the foot of the filthy Cross, than it is to escaping to join the saints in the heavenly choirs. The latter is what we look forward to in hope. The former is where we are now, engaging with the horror of the Cross of Calvary and of the lives that many have to endure. It is in the sacrament of the Cross that all real healing takes place.

This Gospel passage challenges us to seek renewal in Lent which starts on Wednesday. Pope Francis pointed out that an experience of fraternal love in Christ generates a community of healing, a community that leaves no one behind, a community that is inclusive and welcoming, especially to those most in need.[2] If we are to be renewed in the image of Christ, that needs constant repentance and renewal. As we seek to be more faithful to Christ's mission, this passage helps us recognise the temptation to be smugly self-serving rather than uncomfortably self-giving. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are not so much signs of our piety as expressions of our need to be remade. In today's Gospel, Jesus has given us a very challenging model for building the Kingdom of God. In Lent we make space so that grace can remove our dead agendas and make room for the agenda of Christ's risen life. And then there will be something to celebrate at Easter.

+ Donal McKeown

[1] Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for World Day of the Sick 2021 | Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference para 4

[2] Ibid, para 3

SCRIPTURE SATURDAY WITH BISHOP DONAL 13 February 2021 | Episode 4, Series 3 

In this episode Bishop Donal begins going through Marks Gospel outlining:
- who Mark was;
- what is distinct about Marks Gospel; and
- what is it's characteristics.

Bishop Donal also asks us to consider summing up the 'Good News about Jesus Christ' in a couple of sentences? and How does that Good News help you make sense of your life? 

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Homily - Ash Wednesday 2021 - Bishop McKeown
Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for Lent 2021

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Diocesan Offices
St Eugene’s Cathedral
Francis Street, Derry
BT48 9AP | Tel: 028 7126 2302

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