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TOUCHED BY THE RADICAL MERCY OF JESUS


Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time


A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” (Mk. 1:40-45)


Today's Gospel of Mark shows us how encountering Jesus can radically transform our lives.


I remember an encounter I had years ago while going to New York to begin training with my first guide dog. My husband and I decided to attend Mass at a parish along the way. Arriving just minutes before Mass, we decided I would go in and find a seat while he parked the car.


When I went inside the church, I was greeted by an usher who suggested that I might like to attend a nearby Baptist Church instead of staying for Mass. I was momentarily disoriented. What century had I stepped into? Was I in the early to mid-part of the 20th century, when Black Catholics were not permitted to enter certain churches because of their skin color? If they were allowed in, they were supposed to sit in the back and receive the Eucharist only after white parishioners had done so or after Mass.  


I took a breath and politely told him that my husband and I were there to attend Mass. After an uncomfortable and tense conversation, another usher helped me find a seat. I felt relieved, praising God, that this interaction with this one person was over.


After Mass, I told my husband how this encounter left me feeling bereft, like an outcast, an unwelcome stranger in what should have been a welcoming community of believers.

Today's Gospel reading from Mark gives us a powerful example of Jesus's unreserved mercy and compassion as He encounters a man with leprosy.


In the first reading in the Book of Leviticus, we see how people with leprosy, a dangerous and contagious disease with no known cure at that time, are expected to live. Moses says that priests can declare individuals who exhibit external signs of leprosy or what we today call Hansen's disease clean or unclean. Those who are deemed unclean face a life of isolation and must wear torn clothing and unkempt hair, keep their faces covered, and shout out "unclean, unclean" to warn others not to get close to them.


This courageous man in today's Gospel defies centuries of societal expectations and laws to approach Jesus. You can imagine that this man is filled with anticipation and hopefulness, yet perhaps there is a part of him that is afraid that He might be rejected. Even so, he gets close enough to kneel before Jesus and implores, "If you will it, You can make me clean." Full of mercy, Jesus touches him and responds, "I do will it. Be made clean."


These words go beyond this man receiving physical healing; they restore him to his community and make him spiritually whole. After his healing, this man's heart is set ablaze, and he joyfully goes about proclaiming the Good News throughout his community.


How often do we find ourselves in situations where we are cast out or made to feel unclean? Just as Jesus healed the man with leprosy, He extends the same mercy to us today. We are called to approach Him with courage, knowing His response is one filled with compassion, love, and healing. He can and will restore and make us whole.


In conclusion, the Gospel of Mark unveils the radical mercy of our Savior. The encounter between the man with leprosy and Jesus serves as a reminder that anyone can be touched by God's transformative love and made clean. This week, let us carry the message of God's mercy, extending the hand of compassion and welcome to those who are marginalized and isolated- whether they are Black, have a disability, are newly arrived immigrants, or are from a different economic status. We must go against society's tendency to marginalize and cast away those who are different. Let us show the radical mercy of Jesus and invite those on the peripheries into the midst of our beloved community, where the blood of the Lamb cleanses us all!!


Author: Lorna DesRoses serves Black Catholics within the Archdiocese of Boston. She is enrolled in the Master of Arts in Ministry Program at St. John Seminary in Brighton, MA, and is the creator and host of the Voices from the Pews podcast. She strives to joyfully witness the Good News of the love of Christ with everyone she meets. Lorna lives in Boston with her husband.

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