The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Dear brothers and sisters,
We heard a few moments ago those simple and demanding words of Saint Paul: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ,” (I Corinthians 11:1). The Apostle is only able to imitate Christ because he knows Christ, because he has a friendship with him, a relationship which he nurtures and values above all else. Why else would Saint Paul have willingly - and repeatedly - suffered so much because of the name of Christ? If we are to imitate Saint Paul - if you and I are to follow his counsel; we, too, must be friends of Jesus Christ and treasure this relationship above everything else. As Saint Augustine is said to have said, “Christ is not valued at all unless he is valued above all.”
Establishing and maintaining a friendship with Jesus is really much like doing so with anyone else; in order to be friends with Jesus, we must spend time with him. One of my heroes, Saint Damien of Moloka‘i, reminds us that
Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the most tender of friends with souls who seek to please Him. His goodness knows how to proportion itself to the smallest of His creatures as to the greatest of them. Be not afraid then in your solitary conversations, to tell Him of your miseries, your fears, your worries, of those who are dear to you, of your projects, and of your hopes. Do so with confidence and with an open heart.
Is this not what we do with our friends? Do we not tell them of our miseries and our fears? Do we not introduce them to others who are dear to us? Do we not share our projects and our hopes with them? Of course we do; this is what it means to be friends.
If we do all of this with one another, why do we not speak so intimately with Jesus? Why are we often hesitant to spend time with him? Why are the Scriptures so very often at the bottom of our reading pile? Why do we not turn off the television or put the phone down and pray? Could it be that we are afraid of him?
St. Francis of Assisi often said, “What a man is in the eyes of God, that he is and nothing more.” When we spend time with our friends, we often encourage each other and look past each other’s faults. We tell each other that we are not as bad as some might think, that we are better and more skilled than perhaps we really are. We inflate each other’s egos, all in the name of self-esteem, but is it really good to have esteem for oneself? Does it not do us more harm than good to think so highly of ourselves and distort reality?
“What a man is in the eyes of God, that he is and nothing more.” To realize this is true humility because humility is not so much debasing ourselves as much as it is seeing ourselves as God himself sees us, both the good and the bad, as Saint Bernard of Clairvoux teaches us. When we spend time with the Lord he sees us just as we are – nothing more and nothing less; he sees our good works, the kindnesses we have shown and the ways we have faithfully followed him, he sees also all of the times we have failed, our sins, mistakes, and flaws. He sees the beautiful at the same time he sees the ugly; he sees what we portray to others and what we hide. He looks past nothing and ignores nothing. Strange though it may seem, it is for this very reason that his is the greatest of all possible friendships. There is no reason for fear because his friendship is real and sincere.
In friendship with Jesus there is no flattery, no puffing up, no undeserved compliments or unnecessary praises. There is no ignoring of sins and faults. All is laid bare. There is nothing but faithful love. Is this, perhaps, why we are afraid to spend time with Jesus? Do we not know that he will show us our sins and demand something from us, that he will hold us accountable even as he offers his mercy?
If we are to be friends of Christ, we must be honest with him and not attempt to keep anything hidden from him before whom nothing is hidden. The longer we are in his company and the more honest we are with him, the more he reveals our faults, failings, and sins to us just as he calls us to be like him. As all true friends do, Jesus challenges us to grow in holiness and shows us the way to do so, but we must first spend time with him and speak with him as one friend to another.
As we do so, we will realize that each of us has been rightly declared unclean on account of our sins. We have all sinned against the Lord, yet he still desires our friendship. To be friends of the Lord Jesus requires that we acknowledge our failures to love both God and neighbor. Once we have done so, we can say with King David, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you, my guilt you covered not” (Psalm 32:5). After our confession we can echo his words, “Blessed is he whose fault is taken away, whose sin is covered” (Psalm 32:1).
The leper said to Jesus, “If you wish, you can make me clean” (Mark 1:40). He did not dispute his unclean state; he did not make excuses; he did not blame others; he simply acknowledged he was unclean and professed his confidence that Jesus could cleanse him. This is how the humble seek friendship with Jesus and so the Lord said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean” (Mark 1:41). Jesus sent him away saying, “but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed” so proof of his healing could be presented to the community (Mark 1:44).
What is it that Moses prescribed for the cleansing of a leper? This is what a leper was to do:
If the priest finds that the sore of leprosy has healed in the leper, he shall order the man who is to purified, to get two live, clean birds, as well as some cedar wood, scarlet yarn, and hyssop. The priest shall then order him to slay one of the birds over an earthen vessel with spring water in it. Taking the living bird with the cedar wood, the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, the priest shall dip them all in the blood of the bird that was slain over the spring water, and then sprinkle seven times the man to be purified from his leprosy. When he has thus purified him, he shall let the living bird fly away over the countryside (Leviticus 14:3-7).
Whereas the leper was cleansed and healed through the priest’s sprinkling him with the blood of the bird, we are cleansed and healed through the priest’s absolution and the Blood of the Lamb of God.
To his friends, to those who allow him to know them through and through and allow him to challenge them to grow in holiness each day, Jesus still says, “but go, show yourself to the priest.” Let us not be afraid to be with Jesus, to renew and strengthen our friendship with him. When he shows us our sins and tells us to seek his mercy, it is only because he wants us to be whole and clean. He wants to save us from the leprosy of sin, but if we do not recognize and accept the symptoms of our disease he cannot give us his medicine to heal us.
The true friends of Jesus come before him saying, “Lord, ‘if you wish, you can make me clean.’” In this way we truly can, as Saint Paul urges us, “do everything for the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31). Having heard the depth of our faith and the strength of our love for him who first loved us, Jesus will say to us, “I do will it. Be made clean,” and we, too, will be able to say, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ,” because we will have become like our friend. Amen.