By WEENA SALVADOR MEILY
Association of Women in Theology (AWIT)
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Feb. 14, 2021
Psalms 32: 1-2, 5, 11
Psalms 32: 1-2, 5, 11
Leviticus 13: 1-2, 44-46
First Corinthians 10: 31 – 11: 1
Mark 1: 40-45
Usually, when I write for this blog, I would first take a stroll in the oval of the campus where I teach, or among trees in a nearby park, or that famous university we have here in my city. Just to breathe, and take in some inspiration from nature. This time it’s a no-no. The last t
ime I wrote was before the pandemic. The pandemic taught me how to be a true vowed solitary. The new monasticism is more challenging than traditional monasticism. But both requires faithfulness, stillness, silence and the practice of prayer and meditation. Being a solitary does not have to be shut in a monastery up in the mountains or in the midst of the desert. Living a solitary life is even more trying in the midst of the city, in the center of the marketplace. Right now, my young neighbor is just about belting high notes of “Pwede Ba” (my cat looked for a safer place away from the “biritera” sounds, under the couch!) , while I try to immerse into a relaxing African shaman music. It can be crazy but this is how it is. I find my mountain, my desert, or even my ocean right here and now, in my little rented apartment unit I call “My Hermitage”.
There are many lessons to learn from living a solitary life. Indeed a double treat it is from this pandemic! But one thing is for certain. Vowed solitaries, like monks, hermits, prisoners, those who are suffering from illnesses, psychologically isolated persons, emotionally confined individuals, the world in lockdown, all have one thing in common – delimitation, restraint, at times pushed back or down, confined to the edges of life. Once, I found myself saying to my students, there is almost no difference in our lifestyle. You in the prisons, and me in my house, in community quarantine. At the moment I have about 30 students learners of the Alternative Learning System assigned to my tutelage who are inmates renamed PDL (Persons Deprived of Liberty) of the Mandaluyong City Jail serving their jail terms, continuing hearings in court, awaiting their conviction or acquittal. While incarcerated, those who have not accomplished their basic education may enroll themselves. An opportunity for those who want new beginnings, for after all, there is life after prison.
There are many living on the edges of this circle of life. The marginalized, I choose to call them. A common image we see when we approach a subdivision. Did you not notice? At the center are the beautiful houses, and even the church! And at sides, at the peripheries are the houses made of flattened cardboard boxes, rotten wood, dilapidated, rusting galvanized iron. The villagers are at the center, and the “gilid-gers” are at the “gilid”, the sides, the edges of the area. The poor so popularly, they are called. But contrary to popular reason, it is not their fault to be poor. It is a failure of government and society to give opportunities, the circumstances and decisions of key persons in our history, the arrogance of many in seats of parliament to serve their own interests, the greed of autocrats. These are the reasons that have made poverty a curse in the eyes of many. If we still have “the poor” in our midst, it is because we have failed. The world in all its glory, must have failed indeed.
Which brings me to our Gospel reflection for today. We read Jesus healing a leper. Lepers as we all know, are afflicted with a disease that has made them, for years, an ostracized lot. They were frowned upon, banished to the edge of the territory, never to be seen. It was believed to be contagious, and a curse in the family. At least that was what we read and have known about the Biblical lepers of the time of Jesus.
And so, lepers are those marginalized by society, in poverty, stricken with an illness losing their noses, ears and extremities, and losing their loved ones, their self-esteem, their future, losing everything. What else is there to lose? The leper who came to Jesus must have asked himself, but what is there to lose to go to this Jesus? “If you want to, you can make me clean.” In all humility, the leper asks. Only if Jesus wants to. But if not, perhaps he will have to accept his fate and embrace this sorry state. But no, Jesus healed the man! Jesus’ compassion prevailed over the “curse”. Imagine the joy of the cured man, who would be just like everyone else, clean and whole! He is alive again! A new life awaits him. Here is the beauty of Jesus’ mission. He was not only a great teacher, but his teaching effected change. So that from then on, this cured man can move into the center, one with the people, away from marginalization.
I would like to see this healing motif in this piece of narrative as a deep sign of what love and compassion can do. If I can be witness to a transformation of my life of renewing, taking the risk, seizing every moment as an opportunity to begin again, then Jesus’ words are indeed words of eternal life! Such is the life of the transformed man. He took the risk of losing everything over and over again. And out of the love of this man Jesus, his life was transformed. Then as the narrative continues, Jesus imposed a certain silence on the part of the healed unnamed man, never to spread a word of this healing but instead do what is required for cleansing, present himself to the priest of the Temple, and to him give this testimony. In other words, follow the Law. Jesus’ warning comes because the people, especially those within Israel territory are expecting a warrior messiah, a vengeful savior.
This was the first part of Jesus’ public life where he wouldn’t want any obscurity about his mission. It is only when Jesus distanced himself from this popular understanding of the messiah would he begin the gradual unfolding of the mystery of his person, first to his disciples. It is good to note here, that the gospel writer Mark, reserved his use of ‘son of God’ only three times to privileged moments of Jesus’ revelation to people: his baptism, transfiguration and at the conclusion of the passion narrative from the centurion’s lips. This is to underscore the paramount significance of the revelation of the mystery of Jesus through his mission.
Jesus came into this world to teach justice , love, mercy and compassion. And to act on this- healing the sick, driving out demons, forgiving the sinner, changing water into wine. Jesus spoke to the hearts of people. He disturbed the comfortable and comforted the afflicted. He confronted injustice with indignation at the Temple and offered compassion and no condemnation to a woman caught in adultery. And finally he fulfilled His Father’s love for humanity by accepting death on the cross and rising to new life.
For many, many years our country has been confronted with all kinds of evil. But most particularly the reality that majority of the people of our nation are in the fringes. The evils of privatization, liberalization and deregulation have pushed us to such a lamentable drudgery, slavery and backbreaking meaningless toil. This struggle for a just wage, a comprehensive health care system, quality education for all, housing for the needy and homeless, food security, are only a few of what a land of rich natural resources should be providing. Instead, the toiling masses have fattened our politicians, filled their pockets to overflowing and have served as bait to a farce security act. This Anti-Terror Act has turned into an Act of Terror. Giving hired motorcycle-riders the license to kill anyone suspect; to kill in the name of a senseless war on drugs. Today, we think we are living in a highly advanced world of technological knowhow that can save a world in distress. In reality, we are living in temples of profit and worship a god of greed and exploitation that brings the world to an even greater distress.
And this distress then brings me to the life of a martyr. Whose feast we celebrate today. What ‘s the Gospel got to do with Valentine’s Day? Well, a lot actually. For one, Valentine was a martyr, who was beheaded. You can actually Google his or their stories (there are about three Valentines) and you will find it to be such inspiring narratives. Nevertheless, I should say that lepers and the Christian martyrs have many things significant in common. Being ostracized, driven into the dungeons, banished out of the sight of many (because these persons reminded their tormentors of their sins). So, it is but fitting to assign this Gospel reading on St. Valentine’s Day. And what about flowers, chocolates and romantic love? I don’t think a beheading will be such good reason to celebrate in fine dining, wine-drinking and hearts designs galore. Consumerism and commercialization haVE given license to patent hearts and sweets for St. Valentine’s Day. I’d say, we’d better get our acts together, and find the real meaning of this day as we discover alternative ways to celebrate. Or lament?
On this feast of a martyr for God, let us remember the love of mothers who lost their sons and daughters to this nonsensical war on drugs, those healthcare workers serving the frontlines risking their lives out of love and care for Covid patients, the homeless, hungry and needy, the children suffering in desperate conditions, the women and children victims of domestic violence whose numbers have risen in the advent of the lockdown, the rising number of out-of-school youth and adults, the LGBTQ community pushed to the margins of society, and many more who suffer a martyrdom, a loss of the sense of self, a loss of a sense of hope.
Surely the coming of Jesus as healer of the leper in the Gospel, may afford us the right to a lamentation of our hearts…
We lament, o hear our cry O Lord!
We cry out our pains to the heavens.
Hear us, as we bring before you the troubles of our times.
Listen Lord to the lamentations of your children,
as we suffer our despotic leaders, and tyrants.
Bestow on us your hope as we walk through this valley of death.
Transform us unto your love, heal us unto wholeness.
So that we may rise with you
and walk with you in restored faith and dignity. Amen.