Friday, January 8, 2010

Lord, If You Wish, You Can Make Me Clean.

Christmas Weekday

Reading I 1 John 5:5-13
Beloved: Who indeed is the victor over the world
but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

This is the one who came through water and Blood,
Jesus Christ,
not by water alone, but by water and Blood.
The Spirit is the one who testifies,
and the Spirit is truth.
So there are three who testify,
the Spirit, the water, and the Blood,
and the three are of one accord.
If we accept human testimony,
the testimony of God is surely greater.
Now the testimony of God is this,
that he has testified on behalf of his Son.
Whoever believes in the Son of God
has this testimony within himself.
Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar
by not believing the testimony God has given about his Son.
And this is the testimony:
God gave us eternal life,
and this life is in his Son.
Whoever possesses the Son has life;
whoever does not possess the Son of God does not have life.
I write these things to you so that you may know
that you have eternal life,
you who believe in the name of the Son of God.


Today’s First Reading is taken from the first Epistle of Saint John. In this chapter, John speaks of what it means to be children of God. “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is a child of God, and everyone who loves the Father is begotten by him.” The children of God are known not only for their love of others and their love for God, but by their belief that Jesus Christ is the Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Faith, which implies acceptance of Jesus in his true character, as Son of God and Son of Mary, as well as obedience to God’s commands founded in love, is the source of the Christian’s power in the world, and it conquers the world of evil.

Jesus Christ came in to the world not by water alone, but by water and blood. Water and blood refers to Christ’s baptism, and to the shedding of his blood on the cross. The Spirit was present at the baptism. The testimony to Christ as the Son of God is confirmed by divine witness, a more powerful witness than the two human witnesses required by the Mosaic Law. To deny this is to deny God’s truth. The core message of divine witness or testimony is that eternal life is given in Christ and in no other way. To possess the Son is not merely acceptance of a doctrine, but faith in a person who lives who and who provides life.

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Responsorial Psalm 147

Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
Glorify the LORD, O Jerusalem;
praise your God, O Zion.
For he has strengthened the bars of your gates;
he has blessed your children within you.
Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
He has granted peace in your borders;
with the best of wheat he fills you.
He sends forth his command to the earth;
swiftly runs his word!
Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
He has proclaimed his word to Jacob,
his statutes and his ordinances to Israel.
He has not done thus for any other nation;
his ordinances he has not made known to them.
Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.

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Gospel Luke 5:12-16
It happened that there was a man full of leprosy
in one of the towns where Jesus was;
and when he saw Jesus,
he fell prostrate, pleaded with him, and said,
“Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.”
Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said,
“I do will it. Be made clean.”
And the leprosy left him immediately.
Then he ordered him not to tell anyone, but
“Go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing
what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.”
The report about him spread all the more,
and great crowds assembled to listen to him
and to be cured of their ailments,
but he would withdraw to deserted places to pray.


There is a small but significant difference in this healing story. Jesus' other miracles usually occurred through the mere speaking of a word, but here he touched the leper, thereby making himself ritually unclean according to Jewish law (Leviticus 13:42-46). The compassion is evident – and was badly needed, given the isolation that was forced on lepers.

Naturally, the word began to spread. And why not? we might ask. Every word spreads: that's the nature of words. And Jesus is the Word. So why the secrecy? He must have seen that he was in danger of becoming a celebrity. Celebrities, by definition, are famous. That by itself seems to be enough for some modern celebrities who are famous only for being famous. I doubt that Jesus would ever agree to appear on television, were he walking the earth today. But you get the uneasy feeling that many of the ‘apparitions’ of Jesus and Mary today are based only on somebody’s lifelong habit of watching television; our visionaries are televisionaries. But Jesus was substance, not appearance. He touched the leper – something he could not have done through television. And then he sent him away, telling him to say nothing, while he himself “would withdraw to deserted places and pray.”

More than the other gospel writers, Luke shows Jesus frequently at prayer. One translation says “He would always go off to some place where he could be alone and pray.” Others say often, or repeatedly. It is clear that it was his custom, not an occasional thing. This became all the more necessary as his fame increased. He also needed to get away just to rest. Our world puts a very high value on busyness, sometimes making it seem the ultimate value. But how could it be that? Some of the greatest ruffians in history have also been the busiest. “The cruelest men,” wrote Tolstoy, “your Neros and Peter the Greats, were constantly occupied.” If it was necessary for Jesus to seek solitude in first-century Palestine, how much more for us who live with the bustle of the twenty-first century!

Donagh O’Shea, O.P.

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