Are we tempted to push Christ to the edges of our life?

Published on 11 Feb 2021

The former leper rushed to inform all the world about Jesus and his astonishing powers. 

He had been told not to: sternly [1].   The result of this indiscretion was that the Lord was mobbed everywhere. He ended up having to lurk on the edge of where most people lived.  Curiously enough this was the very place where, before his cure, the leper had been obliged to loiter. It had been prescribed that lepers should live apart, outside the camp [2].  They were obliged to warn anyone who unwittingly approached with a cry of Unclean, Unclean [3].  The same rules were enforced when the chosen people gave up living in tents and settled in towns.  Jesus, having rescued the leper from the margins was himself marginalised.

Are we tempted to push Christ to the edges of our life?   Do we prefer that he dwell no closer than the fringe of the activities we consider most important?  Do we expect him to give very clear signals when he is approaching us, so that we can take avoiding action or, at least, brace ourselves for his proximity?  He has encouraged us to be vigilant for his return.  Could the attentiveness he recommends be corrupted into a sort of furtiveness?  We are on the alert for him, but only so as to be able to slink away, if he gets too close.  We can hardly expect the holy one to announce that he is unclean, unclean.  The opposite is the case.  As Jesus approaches us, the need for our continuing purification becomes more apparent to us.  So, there is, at such a moment, in the air, a cry deploring what is unclean.  The Lord, who could no longer go openly into any town, but had to stay outside in places where nobody lived [4], comes close to us to heal and purify.  Our need of his help hovers around our reaction to his drawing near.  Our welcome of him is coloured but our awareness, not that he is unclean, but that we are.

Jesus counselled discretion to the man he had healed. Mind you say nothing to anyone [5].   He wants to go on quietly explaining his mission to his disciples before going before a large public.  His teaching is simple but it can be misunderstood.   Disciples are urged to stay close to the Lord, living in his way, with him, before announcing him to others.  He is not simply a wonderworker.  The miracles, important as they are, can cause a sensation, which may distract the focus from God.   The conversations between Jesus and his friends, in which all is explained, are marred by the obtuseness of the listeners.  Our slowness to understand pushes the One, who has brought us in from the cold, out to the edge of things.   He opens his heart to us.  We are delighted by his tenderness but challenged by his commands.   Those, who were distant from God until he revealed himself to us in Christ, can be tempted to forget who he is and what he has done.  Prayers have a way of stopping if they are answered.    Some decide, no doubt more despairingly than arrogantly, that they can do better on their own.   Like the babbling former-leper, many whom Jesus has helped conclude that his clear instructions do not really apply to them.  He urges silence: talk seems better. The Lord respectfully seeks to be in the midst of all the activity: it can seem better to let him be pushed to the margins.

Pushing Jesus to the margins does not prevent him helping.  Even so, people from all around would come to him [6].  Rather like John the Baptist deliberately going out to the wilderness and then being followed there by large crowds[7], Jesus attracts listeners and searchers even when shut out from the centre of things.  He heals those who have been excluded and takes their place.  Disgraced, he yet speaks more effectively than ever.  Despised and rejected [8], he turns out to be in the right place to really help.  In due course he will be taken out of the city, to the place of the skull [9].  Adam and Eve were banished from the garden [10] but this was because they had made themselves unable to live happily in it. Christ ventures out to the place of banishment to rescue those who have hidden from God.  He brings back the banished.  The Son of God pursues them and tracks them down to the lonely place where they take refuge.  Out of love, Jesus died outside on the Cross, swapping places with us. His doing so allows us to be at home again with God, with whom we find new life and a love which does not exclude.  The Son cannot linger among the tombs[11], but breaks the chains of all who are imprisoned there and restores them to the Father.

The ex-leper, who would not accept the rule of silence, had earlier broken the law in another way.  He must live apart [12] was what was expected of him.  He flouted the rule for lepers in a way which has led to that regulation and all the others like it no longer applying to him. Not content to stay on the fringes, he came to Jesus, and pleaded on his knees [13].   Seeking the Lord’s help takes us to a holy place for which we can seem ill-suited.  Were he not so welcoming, we might consider ourselves out of place in his company.   He reaches out to us.  He breaks the law-like pattern of our earlier conduct.  Of course I want to [14], he reassures us.  Our doubt might be not so much about either his willingness to help us or his authority to do so but more about our own susceptibility to his touch.  Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him[15].  In the case described, the leprosy left him at once and he was cured [16].  In our own case, perhaps we are not sure that Jesus can reach us or that his touch is any longer effective.   Pushed to the margins, he is not close enough any more.   Well-defended and armoured, we might be impervious to his touch?

Christ is our model [17].  He is the pattern of our life at the centre and on the edges.  He shows us how to conduct ourselves as persons in need of healing and, afterwards, as those healed who are moved to speak to others about the One who has cured us. The Son brings us back to the Father from wherever we have wandered.   Unlike some sulky older brother[18], offended by the welcome given to the repentant sinner, he, Jesus is content to take our lonely place back among the husks.  From the fringes, he brings back others to the centre.  Close to God there is healing: of course I want to. The renewal of strength comes after a time of vulnerability. In order to put on  the armour of God [19] we had first to open ourselves, in our weakness, to the healing touch of the One who always reaches out to us. His Spirit tells us what to say and, also, when to keep silence.  He started talking about it freely and telling the story everywhere [20].  Transformed by the Lord, we are now impelled to tell others about him.   In doing so, we stay close to him, who can no longer go openly into any town [21].  We do not push him away but rather follow him, even to places from which we would once have needed rescuing.   Our desire to talk to others about him is tempered by our need to know him better.  Jesus does not silence us, but we speak at his bidding and to those to whom he sends us.  We do it for the glory of God [22].

Homily by Father Peter Gallagher SJ

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Photo by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash

[1]              Mark 1.43

[2]              Leviticus 13.46

[3]              Leviticus 13.45

[4]              Mark 1.45

[5]              Mark 1.43

[6]              Mark 1.45

[7]              Mark 1.5

[8]              Isaiah 53.3

[9]              John 19.17

[10]            Genesis 3.25

[11]            Mark 5.3-5

[12]            Leviticus 13.46

[13]            Mark 1.40

[14]            Mark 1.41

[15]            Mark 1.41

[16]            Mark 1.42

[17]            1 Corinthians 11.1

[18]            Luke 15.11-32

[19]            Ephesians 6.11

[20]            Mark 1.45

[21]            Mark 1.45

[22]            1 Corinthians 10.31