Greetings, SBT Readers!
Happy Valentine's Day! Though traditionally, St. Val's is a day for celebrating romantic love or for sending warm sentiments/ gifts to the important people in our lives, this year its proximity to Lent is jarring. Red roses and chocolates on a Sunday yield to the starkness of "virtual ashes" on Ash Wednesday. Just as rosebuds are unfolding, Lent summons us to the desert where-- also traditionally-- boxes of Godiva chocolates have no place. But perhaps this is not a year to be traditional. Perhaps, given the global pandemic, what is called for is not the desert but chocolate to sustain us and roses to brighten our world.
As symbols of Love, roses invite us to reach beyond our own isolation and limited activities to "touch" another -- to give that "virtual hug," to offer words of comfort, to be a compassionate presence, to understand the grief and frustration that so many people are experiencing worldwide. They also invite us to welcome Love itself into our hearts and homes, to make time and space for the Holy One, so that, pandemic or no pandemic, joy will be ours once more.
A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.”
Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.”
The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.
Then, warning him sternly, Jesus dismissed him at once.
He said to him, “See that you tell no one anything,
but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.”
In this Gospel narrative, the leper's will and Jesus' will coincide: the man wishes to be made clean and Jesus, moved with compassion, wishes to heal him. You could say this is a simple miracle story: a man with leprosy seeks out Jesus and kneels before him, confident that Jesus can heal him, but he leaves the outcome of their encounter "open-ended"; he neither begs nor demands, but says, "If you wish..." -- in other words, "Thy will be done." Jesus can work with him precisely because of his faith. In fact, Mark tells us that when Jesus reaches out to touch the man, the leprosy leaves him "immediately." Healed of his symptoms, the man can now rejoin the community; unable to contain his joy, he tells everyone what has happened. In effect, the former outcast becomes a herald of Good News, his proclamation of God's mercy inviting others to faith.
Complexity happens when those in need of healing are in denial about their "disease," or resist seeking help, or, in some cases, either don't want to be healed or else are open only to partial healing. In such cases, there is no synergy between healer and healee; instead, their wills "collide," and if any healing takes place, it is only superficial. What happens on a human level can also happen when our wills collide with God's. Through Jesus' healing miracles, the Gospels reveal that God desires nothing less than "wholeness" for each of us; sadly, many cling to their fractured selves, preferring misery to surrender.
All of us have a leprosy of some kind -- some condition, visible or invisible, that separates us from others, alienates us from God or disconnects us from our deepest selves. Whether we like to admit this or not, all of us are "unclean" in some way, all in need of forgiveness, all in need of a change of heart. Lent comes, as it always does, to offer us a time for introspection, for taking an honest self-inventory, and for reorienting ourselves towards God again. As in the case of the man suffering from leprosy, the first step towards healing is to desire it, and the second is to ask for it; then, when our wills are fully aligned with God's will, we will experience that healing synergy.:
Have mercy, tender God,
forget that I defied you.
Wash away my sin,
cleanse me from my guilt.
I know my evil well,
it stares me in the face,
evil done to you alone
before your very eyes...
God, reshape my heart,
steady my spirit.
Do not cast me aside
stripped of your holy spirit.
Save me, bring back my joy,
support me, strengthen my will.
Then I will teach your Way
and sinners will turn to you.