Coincidentally, this year’s sixth Sunday in ordinary time falls on Valentine day – a day the world celebrates the reality of Love. However, the understanding and practice of love have been reduced to and degenerated into sensual and sexual feelings and desires, or a kind of love that is exclusivistic, particularistic or conditional. The readings today call us to meditate on the communion and the inclusion of all God’s children into the community of God’s love; that any form of exclusion or separationism is anti-love and in fact dangerous to the growth of any human community. In the Old Testament Jewish law, as we read in the first reading, anyone diagnosed of any contagious disease labelled as leprosy, is excluded from the community.
This exclusion had medical, social, psychological and spiritual implications. The ritual that goes with the identity of the patient is so humiliating, heaping shame and disgrace upon the person: “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.’” The person is treated like an outcast, unable to relate with anyone, not even his family. This law was so severe that any contact with a healthy person makes the healthy one equally ‘unclean.’ In the Gospel, by way of divine paradox, Jesus comes to change the shame and humiliation of the disease of leprosy in the Jewish community and in human condition. Here, we see one instance of Jesus fulfilling the mosaic law, wherein he becomes the healing, the salvation and the reintegration of broken humanity formerly excluded from the community of God’s people: the man with the leprosy approached Jesus… Jesus touched him! The most astonishing part of this encounter is this response of Jesus
. Jesus has the ability to heal from afar (Mark 7:29), yet he chooses to touch the man whose leprosy makes him ritually unclean. From a Jewish perspective, this contact should have rendered Jesus himself ritually unclean. But here, the opposite occurs: Jesus’ holiness and love transformed the uncleanness of the man suffering leprosy and made him clean Again, the man with leprosy approached Jesus not just because he had faith that Jesus can heal him, but also because he recognised in Jesus, the Love and mercy of God. This is the Love and mercy that we are called to imitate as Christians. Many Christians see themselves as the exclusive ones, the Chosen, the separated ones (which in fact is the English translation of ‘Pharisee’), and therefore as many who do not come to terms to their own version of righteousness are already condemned to eternal damnation.
The Holy Father, Pope Francis once put it this way: “[these are] the people who, on the one hand, want to listen to Jesus, but on the other hand, at times, like to find a stick to beat others with, to condemn others.” The community of God’s people is a community of love – it is not tied to any racial, sectorial or class types; there are neither Jews nor Gentiles. No one is an outcast, illegitimate or partial child of God. We are all pilgrims journeying together until we reach out heavenly home to be with God in eternity. So as we go out to celebrate Valentine today, let us make this year’s celebration remarkable by taking out for dinner those who will least expect it from us, our workers, maids; buy a gift for that gatekeeper, for that beggar on the street, a total stranger, a compound neighbour. Let the surprise package be given to someone whom we think does not deserve it (for that is, in fact, a true surprise since every loved one ordinarily expects a gift from us at any time, particularly today). Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour (NRSV) (Rom 12:9-10).