In today’s mass readings, we encounter two ways of dealing with lepers, both from God. The first reading from the Book of Leviticus, which detailed hundreds of Jewish laws, decreed that lepers should wear torn garments to show their sores, and cry out, “Unclean, unclean.” Thus, people who see and hear the afflicted stay away. To compel the people to follow, this rule, as with many others, are attributed to “the Lord.”
The Gospel of St. Mark has an opposite approach, demonstrated by Jesus Christ Himself. When a leper came to Him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean,” our Lord was “moved with pity.” He stretched out His hand, touched the leper, and said, “I do will it. Be made clean.” And he was.
Which is the true instruction from God? Actually, both. If a leper may infect others, it is right to give warning, though people must also show compassion toward him. And if one can help lepers get well, whether by miraculous powers or medical treatment, let them be cleansed.
However, the right way to treat lepers isn’t really the point of the readings, which also include St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, exhorting the faithful: “Whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. … I try to please everyone in every way, not seeking my own benefit, but that of the many, that they may be saved.”
Rather, the Word and the Gospel of the Lord today is about opening His Kingdom to all, especially the outcasts of the world, like the lepers disdained by others, and worse, seen as punished by God for grave sins, just as the poor and the barren were.
In fact, Jesus’ overarching message is that He came to earth that all humanity, especially the marginalized, may be saved.
Which happened to be the topic of discussion in this writer’s online Scripture course: Who may enter the Kingdom of God, and how?
‘The last shall be first’
Reflecting on St. Luke’s Gospel, one sees the all-embracing inclusivity of the Kingdom in many events and statements. Frequently and prominently highlighted is openness not just to Jews, but to the Gentiles and sinners excluded by the law and from the temple. Who else may enter?
Jesus’ reading from the Book of Isaiah at the synagogue in Nazareth, spells out who may join the Kingdom (Lk 4:18-19): “the captives … the blind … [the]oppressed.” The rest of the Chapter 61 Jesus read, listed others who may come in: “all who mourn” and “their descendants.”
In the verses right after Jesus’ synagogue reading, He Himself refers to the Gentiles by citing the widow of Sidon and Naaman the Syrian. And Nazareth’s rejection of Jesus places Him among outcasts of society, who are the very ones invited to the Kingdom. The next two chapters further expound on who are welcomed to God’s reign: “not the righteous, but sinners” (Lk 5:32), and the poor, the hungry, the weeping, and the hated (Lk 6:20-26).
One more group, also dismissed as inconsequential in the Israel of Jesus’ time: children. When His disciples tried to keep babies from the Lord, He admonished: “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Lk 19:16-17).
There’s a clear pattern here: The least in society are the favored in the Kingdom. Or as our Lord Himself spelled it out: “the last shall be first, and the first last” (Mt 20:16).
Entering the Kingdom
Okay, so how does one enter the Kingdom? Here’s a five-point guide.
First and foremost, love — unconditional, all-embracing, self-sacrificing love. After the Beatitudes, Jesus expounds on this divine love, which man is invited to set ablaze in his heart and his life by loving one’s enemies (Lk 6:27-38).
In this way, we follow not only the example of God, but Christ’s redeeming mission, who lived and died so that we will all be forgiven and saved. This greatest virtue is, of course, best expounded in the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:29-37).
Besides love, faith and hope, too, as shown not only by the blind and the lepers who seek healing from Jesus, but more so by the centurion seeking succor for his slave (Lk 7:2-10), and at that chapter’s end, the weeping woman washing and kissing Jesus’ feet for forgiveness (Lk 7:36-50).
The succeeding chapter further depicts the intensity of faith we need in Jesus rebuking the wind, then his apostles for their lack of faith (Lk 8:22-25), and in the bleeding woman who touched Jesus’ garment, and Jairus whose daughter Jesus brought back to life (Lk 8:40-56).
Faith, hope and love must lead to obedience: doing God’s will even against one’s own wish and self. Jesus spelled out exactly what was needed to be His mother and brethren, and therefore God’s children: “hear the word of God and do it” (Lk 8:20, reiterated in Lk 11:27-28).
This fundamental tenet reverses not just the original sin of Adam and Eve, but the defiance of demons and evil spirits, as Jesus repeatedly encountered and had to expel by His power, not their submission. And what obedience entails is denying oneself, as Jesus admonished those who would follow him (Lk 8:57-62).
And if we fail to follow, what then? We come to the greatest attribute of God, which man must himself accord for it to be accorded him: mercy. We must forgive like the father who welcomed back his prodigal son (Lk 15:11-32). But more so, we must seek the lost and bring them to God, like the shepherd leaving his flock to find the missing lamb, and the woman seeking her lost coin (Lk 15:3-10).
Man is fallen, and to save him Jesus preaches forgiveness from heaven and from the heart, exhorting us to do what the Jews thought only God can. Amen.