Today’s gospel offers us three essential elements for healing, like a three-legged stool.
We are invited to experience the healing power of Jesus in our life through the three-legged stool of faith, self-awareness and fellowship.
The first striking note in the Gospel is the strong faith of the leper and his desire to heal. He not only defies the rule of warning people to stay away from him by going directly up to Jesus and begging him; his request actually takes the form of an affirmation of Jesus’ power to heal. He recognizes Jesus as one in whom the power of God is at work, as only God can “make clean.” The law was helpless against leprosy and could not heal it — it could only defend the community against it, and actually condemned those who had it to a life of lonely isolation. The leper had amazing faith that what the law could not do Jesus could do if he so chose.
It goes without saying that the leper was also very much aware that he was a leper. The word for “leprosy” meant any scaly skin disease. In that religion and society, people were shunned, set apart, isolated and excluded until they could be certified clean by a priest, the only one who had that authority. It was a terrible price to pay — becoming a social outcast, rejected by society. The leper knew who he was, and did not deny it, hide it or try to rationalize it. He was humble and honest and self-aware, the second element for healing to happen.
Thirdly, he reached out for help — he entered into fellowship. He came to Jesus, begging and kneeling in supplication. That is the third element for healing — Jesus works through community, through other people. The leper reached out to another human being and experienced healing through faith, self-awareness and fellowship.
That fellowship can include the power of touching another human being, like the Elephant Man was touched by Mrs. Kendall, a famous British actress. Her insistence on shaking hands with his deformed hand, that touching acceptance, was the beginning of his transformation.
In a similar way, Jesus breaks all the social and religious taboos; he reaches out, touches the leper and heals him. I believe it is the acceptance, the unconditional love and the full caring attention of the Son of God that healed the man, and can also heal us.
What happens next is called the “messianic secret” in the gospel of Mark — Jesus warns the man not to say anything because he does not want to be known only as a miracle worker. He wants people to believe in who he is, the Son of God, the Redeemer who would redeem us through his death on the cross, who could not only heal us physically, but came to forgive us our sins and heal us of our sinfulness, that which makes us sin, our character defects and bad habits.
Jesus also shows respect for the law and its demands (as long as it does not obstruct his healing work) by commanding the former leper to show himself to the priest and offer the prescribed sacrifices. The man, however, having seen how Jesus was not held back by social and religious restrictions when it came to love and healing, has only one thought — to rejoice and tell everyone he sees what Jesus has done for him. He becomes a model of what all of us should do as disciples — spread the Good News of Jesus Christ and his healing power.
Like the leper, our faith in Jesus must be strong. We must recognize him as one in whom the power of God is at work. We also must be humble, honest and open about our need to heal. The physical healings of Jesus are a symbol of the deeper inner healing of our personalities, relationships and lives that Jesus wants to accomplish. The leper was not only healed physically, but he was also restored to the community — he was healed relationally and socially. And so it is with us.
That is where we need fellowship. Often we are spiritually blind, totally unaware of our need for healing of some bad habit or defect of character, like false pride, manipulating others, control, lust for power, or even addiction. It is amazing how we can deny, blame, project and rationalize our own pathologies, and block any healing. There are times when we need to turn to others, get feedback from them and learn from them where we need healing. In most cases, fellowship and self-awareness go hand in hand.
The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous is a three-legged healing stool. Four of the steps are about Faith in God (2,3,7,11); four of the steps are about self-awareness (1, 4, 6, 10), and the last four are about fellowship (5, 8, 9, 12). The power of God working through Jesus as our higher power saturates the steps. All we have to do is work them.
The eucharist we celebrate today is a celebration of those three areas of healing. We believe God’s love is present in Word and sacrament, we are aware of our need for forgiveness and healing, and we celebrate this together as a community of wounded people, coming together to be transformed into the Body of Christ, to become ourselves wounded healers, sent out to spread the good news to the world.
So, experience the healing power of Jesus in your life through faith, self-awareness and fellowship, and share that good news with others.
Sylvain Lavoie, OMI, Archbishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Keewatin-The Pas, is chaplain at the Star of the North Retreat House in St. Albert, Alta. He continues to live out his motto, Regnum Dei Intra Vos (the kingdom of God is among you), which is his overriding focus and passion.