Reading 1: Leviticus 13: 1-2, 44-46
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 32:1-2, 5, 11
Reading 2: 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1
Gospel: Mark 1:40-45
The man depicted in today’s gospel experiences himself as “unclean.” In his cultural context, the social meaning of this was that since he was afflicted with skin sores, he lacked the bodily integrity necessary to be accepted among the worshiping people of God. This specific cultural meaning is no longer operative or at least not within the more modernized cultures that most of us experience. Yet perhaps now more than ever, large numbers of people feel damaged, constricted, or incomplete in ways that isolate them from the kind of loving relationships for which they long.
Although lonely, traumatized people today would be unlikely to use the language of being “unclean,” their situation is not so different from that of this man. They are desperate and nearly hopeless, having tried many physical and psychological remedies without finding any way to assuage the deep ache they carry within. Often the pain of that ache goads them to behave in ways that further alienate the people with whom they interact most closely. They cry out for a savior who can finally make them whole and healthy of heart.
Confronted by such a wounded person, Jesus is moved from deep within. The word used is graphic: compassion emerges from his “innards” or “womb.” While others may back away from the grasping behaviors of a deeply needy person, Jesus does not. He “gets it.” He knows that even as such a person may beg insistently for many things, the one thing they really want is unconditional love. And that is the one thing he most wants to give. “I will it,” he says.
When I was young, I imagined the journey of the spiritual life as an ascent through definable stages until one would eventually arrive at a stable state of blissful and peaceful union with God. Now that I am (a lot) older, I realize that the process is in some ways far more complex than that – and yet, ultimately, far more simple than that. It is more complex because every human life bears its own unique mix of messy, traumatizing, often “unjust” experiences, and no spiritual aspiration or practice can provide any escape from walking step by step through the particular versions of pain one has been handed. Often that may feel as if one is staggering backward, into increasing darkness and confusion, rather than marching steadily forward into the light.
Today’s gospel illustrates why, despite its experiential complexities, the spiritual journey is ultimately more simple than my original naïve vision of ascending stages and final bliss. The only thing that matters, finally, is knowing that God loves you, just as you are. To be “made clean” does not mean having the mess, the trauma, and the injustice taken away. It is, rather, to know that one is – and always has been – lovingly accompanied, even in the worst times of confusion and darkness. In the end, saving grace is nothing more – and nothing less – than this unconditional love.
Sr. Mary Frohlich, RSCJ
Professor of Spirituality Emerita