by f. Luis CASASUS, General Superior of the Idente Missionaries.
New York/Paris, February 14, 2021. | VI Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Book of Leviticus 13: 1-2.44-46; 1 Corinthians 10: 31-33.11,1; Saint Mark 1: 40-45.
Our understanding of what true obedience is often limited. We are content to repeat some phrase of Jesus that describes the meaning of obedience for every Christian, for example: If you love me, you will keep my commandments (Jn 14: 15). But the Commandments, even the commandment to love, were older than Christ. He speaks to us personally, gives us intimate commandments and instructions, as he did to the newly healed leper: See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them. When he heard the voice of the Lord telling him not to do something, he simply ignored it and did what he wanted to do. He likely thought he had justification for doing so: after all, Jesus had given him the greatest gift of his life and what would it hurt, he probably asked himself, publicly to praise him for it? But the simple fact of the matter is that he responded to the Lord’s command with disobedience.
We must not forget that one of the central objectives of living a state of prayer is freedom. And if we understand what authentic freedom is, that is, the freedom of the children of God, then we will understand that this freedom is born of filial obedience.
Obedience is not always appreciated, neither inside nor outside the Church.
King Mahmud (18th century ruler of Persia) had a loyal servant called Ayaz. One day, the king assembled his courtiers and showed them a magnificent pearl. The king passed the pearl to his minister asking him his opinion of it. The minister praised it, saying it was worth more than the gold a hundred donkeys could carry. Then came the King’s instructions: Break it! The minister replied that his hand could not do such a thing. The king rewarded him with a robe of honour. This went on with fifty or sixty courtiers. One by one, they imitated the minister and received new wealth from the king.
The pearl was then given to Ayaz. The king asked Ayaz his opinion, who could reply only that the pearl was more splendid than he could describe in words. Upon the king’s instructions to Ayaz to break the pearl, much to the astonishment of the entire court, Ayaz crushed it into tiny pieces. The court assembly screamed at the recklessness of Ayaz, “How could you do that?” Ayaz replied, “What the king says is worth more than any pearl. I honour the king, not some coloured stone.”
Jesus gave the healed leper the strong warning: See that you do not tell this to anyone. But the former leper did not obey Jesus. He went straight out and freely spread the news. Jesus did not want the man to broadcast what had happened to him; he did not want to be known merely as a wonder-worker. As a result of this man’s disobedience, people were captivated by Jesus’ wonders, thus limiting his ability to proclaim what he had announced at the beginning of Mark’s gospel: The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the Good News (Mk 1: 15). The healing of a leper was therefore much more than a prodigious gesture. It was the proof that the messiah has arrived in the world.
Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Even in the lonely places, people came to him from everywhere.
Thus we see that our disobedience can limit the act of the Holy Spirit. Undoubtedly, He will seek other ways, but we will miss the opportunity to be instruments of salvation and we will not enjoy, at least on that occasion, the true joy, that of Jesus Himself. That is why St. Paul, in today’s Second Reading, tells us what the apostle’s motivation, his pure intention, must be: Not seeking my own benefit but that of the many, that they may be saved.
One of the great dangers in living the faith is the temptation to manipulate God for our own ends. This temptation obviously can affect those with no or very little faith: “If you really exist, then show it by working this miracle I ask of you.” But it can also affect those who are more familiar with God.
St Paul urges us to do everything for the glory of God and not for our own interests. We must be selfless in reaching out to others. We must be sincere in helping them. Quite often people help the poor and the marginalized with ulterior motives. Some use the poor to enrich themselves by not paying them a just wage. Others render assistance in order to make themselves popular and recognized.
Three synonyms in the Gospel: Filial obedience. Obedience of faith. Obedience to the truth. St. Paul speaks of an “obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5; 16:26). Today, the importance of filial obedience is highly underestimated, viewed as a relic of an oppressive past. We need to rediscover and carry out the words of St. Peter: Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere love of the brethren, love one another earnestly from the heart (1 Pt 1:22). For St. Peter, as for the Catholic Church today, authentic love and evangelization of our brethren is impossible without purification of our own souls and, in particular, that purification which comes through a sincere love of the truth, and the courage to live in accordance with the moral truths of the Gospel. In other words, obedience to the truth.
If we have not understood this, we will hardly accept to obey sincerely a superior, an authority, the gentle voice of God, because we do not feel that obedience is a form of union, a form of bond or vinculum. Sadly, too many people have come to associate obedience with some sort of blind submission. Instead, if we look at the history of the word, we see that it comes from two Latin words, ob and audire, and the English word “obedience” means to listen or to hear. This act of listening is the form of union typical of obedience.We do something, united, only by divine will and that also unites us to Him. It is as simple as that.
Jesus wanted the healed leper to go through the official requirements so that it would be a “public testimony” to the priest and those who heard about it. Any priests involved in pronouncing this former leper clean would have been confronted with the reality of Jesus’ undeniable healing power.
Jesus sent him away with the intent of him becoming a witness to a specific group, mainly the priests at the temple. Even though we can share our story of what God has done in our lives with everyone, the reality is God has a specific target group of people for you in mind. There are certain people that your story is going to connect with, so share it. I must go where Jesus sends me. Jesus gave this man a mission. Jesus had changed his life and now He wants to work through his life. The same is true for you and me. When Jesus saves us with his forgiveness and does wonderful things in our lives, He is going to send you on a mission. He has a task for you. There are people who need to hear what He has done in your life.
St. Joseph represents a sublime example of the unexpected fruits of obedience in faith. Divine Providence sent an angel to St. Joseph to reassure him that he should protect Mary’s mystery by remaining her husband. Scripture affirms that St Joseph obeyed the angel. We can even read the exactitude of his obedience by the exact correspondence in scripture. The angel said, Take Mary your wife into your home (Mt 1:20) and Scripture affirms, When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and “took his wife into his home.” (Mt 1:24). St Joseph’s obedience to the angel’s command served as a veil to protect Mary and her Child from the ruler of this age. This pattern was repeated twice more as St Joseph protected the Child and His Mother from Herod’s wrath (Mt 2:13) and the menace of Archelaus (Mt. 2:22) through his humble obedience to the angel’s command (Mt 2:14,22).
True filial obedience is characterized by promptness and joy, as we find that it is infinitely better to renounce one’s own will, own ideas, own counsel for the love of God than holding fast to one’s own will, own ideas, own counsel.
Obedience must be understood, in the first place, as obedience to God. A consequence of that obedience is the obedience to superiors in spiritual and religious life. If we carefully look at the following words of St. Maximilian Kolbe, they reflect almost literally what our Father and Founder has always taught us:
God, who is all-knowing and all-wise, knows best what we should do to increase His glory. Through his representatives on earth, He continually reveals His will to us, thus it is obedience and obedience alone, that is the sure sign to us of the divine will. A superior may, it is true, make a mistake but it is impossible for us to be mistaken in obeying a superior’s command. The only exception to this rule is the case of a superior commanding something, that in even the slightest way, would contravene God’s law. Such a superior would not be conveying God’s will.
Mark tells us that Jesus reached out and touched te leper. Ever since this man had been diagnosed with leprosy, no one had touched him. Yet here, in a moment of total vulnerability, as his face was in the dirt begging for deliverance, Jesus reached out and healed the man with a touch.
In the Bible a touch can mean so much more than just a touch. For example, when the people would offer up sacrifices to God they would lay their hands on them as a way of identifying with the animal with the symbolic act of the sins being transferred to the animal before the animal was sacrificed. When Jesus was touching this man he was identifying with the leper. He was entering into the leper’s world. Jesus was willing to enter into his world and give the leper what he could never find on his own.
Jesus is willing to touch those who have been rejected, abandoned, and forgotten. His compassion reaches to those who you see and those you don’t see. As followers of Jesus we have to enter the world of our neighbor, identify with their pain, and touch their lives letting them know, “I love you just like you are and I am here to help you.” A spiritual touch is a caress, an invitation, without words, to be united. Like a kiss. Ike a caress.
Our Father Founder has spoken to us of the Charismatic Touch, the touch of Grace, a clear, significant and powerful impression of the action of the Holy Spirit. It is difficult to find another metaphor more adequate than the word “touch” to describe what happens in us when the Word, innocence, the example of others or human suffering reach our heart. It is more than seeing, more than understanding and more than desiring, because a touch represents a form of immediate union, a confirmation that we are on the right path, as happens to a blind person who allows himself to be guided by the arm of someone who leads him, which is much better than the help of a walking cane.
Some years ago, a man collapsed on a busy corner of a town. Within minutes an ambulance rushed him to the nearest hospital. From time to time he would regain consciousness and would keep calling for his son. In his wallet, the attending nurse found an old letter, which indicated that had a son who was a soldier stationed 300 miles away. So she called and asked him to come over immediately.
As soon as the soldier arrived, the nurse took him to the man’s bedside and whispered, “Your son is here! Your son is here!” The old man opened his eyes, and even though he could not recognize the face, he noticed the presence of the young man in uniform. Reaching out compassionately the young man took the old man’s hand and held it lovingly. Sometime later the nurse urged him to go out and have something to eat and drink. But the young man declined, only asking for a chair, so he could sit by the old man’s bedside and keep holding his hand. Sometime before dawn the patient passed away. Stepping up to the young man, the nurse extended her sympathy. “Nurse” he stammered, “who is this man?” The nurse couldn’t believe her ears. “Why?” she replied hesitantly, “I thought he was your father.” “Quite honestly, nurse, my father died some time ago. I have never seen this man before in my life.” “Then why did you not say something earlier?” asked the nurse. “I would have” answered the man, “but I could see that he was too sick to realize that I wasn’t his son. I could also see that he was slipping fast and that he needed the comfort of his son. And so I decided to stay.” Mercy makes the love and concern of God a tangible reality for any human being in distress.