We have had a lot of Gospel readings at Mass over the past several weeks about miracles. Today, we learn about an unclean man, a leper, whom Jesus made clean again (Mark 1:40-45).
I’d like to tell you a story about miracles.
Once upon a time, there was a small village in a faraway land where there lived a brother and a sister, Clara and Timmy. Clara and Timmy lived with their parents, went to school, did all their chores and played outside in the sunshine and fresh air as often as they possibly could. They were happy in their little family and small village… and they made sure they said their prayers every single night before they went to sleep. Each night, before getting into bed, Clara knelt down and thanked God for her family, for her house, for the village and for all the good things in her life. She asked God to help her to behave at school, to work hard and to make sure she was kind to everyone she met. Timmy stood by his bed, made the sign of the cross, and said: “Dear God, I wish I could have my very own pony. Amen.”
One day, people in the village started getting sick… very sick. It was something called smallpox which, thankfully, nobody can get anymore. But a long time ago, people used to get smallpox and it was bad. Sometimes, really bad. People who got smallpox had to stay away from everybody else so that they would not get it too.
These were very sad days in the little village because one by one, people became ill and it was very difficult for the people who were not sick to take care of them.
And then it happened… both Clara and Timmy came down with smallpox. They had to stay in their rooms with big blankets and sheets hung around their beds so that they couldn’t see outside. They felt very sick and became quite bored too because they couldn’t see other people, couldn’t play, and they couldn’t go outside into the sunshine and fresh air. These were very sad days.
Clara spent time praying and this was her prayer: “Dear God, I’m sorry for all the people in our village who are sick. Please help them feel better. And please help all the people who are not sick and who are worried about the ones they love and who have to care for all those who are sick. Please take good care of them. I hope I can get better… and if I do, please always help me to remember what it’s like having smallpox. I never want to forget it so that I will always appreciate what it is like to be healthy and so that I will always remember to help those who are sick.”
Timmy prayed too. He said: “Dear God, please make me feel better. Amen.”
I’m happy to say that both Clara and Timmy became well again. For Clara, that experience changed her life. She dedicated herself to helping others, to helping people who were sick, who did not have homes, who were hungry, and who were lonely. Clara discovered the joy of service and for her, getting smallpox was the beginning of her miracle story.
Timmy got better too… but he not did learn anything from the experience… and so for him, I don’t think he experienced a miracle.
What do you think the difference was between Clara and Timmy?
Miracles happen when there is a transformation of some sort. In the first reading today (LV 13:1-2, 44-46), we learn about the life of a leper. Once deemed unclean, they are instructed to shout out to all who approach: “Unclean, unclean!”
In addition to the physical challenges associated with leprosy, this was a disease of isolation, of desolation, of loneliness… of being absolutely and completely rejected by everyone else. It is a life lived in the shadows. It is a difficult life.
In the Gospel reading, there is one critical line and it is the only one spoken by the man in question, the one afflicted by this disease. Upon encountering Christ, he said:
“If you wish, you can make me clean.”
Not my will, but yours. This is… surrender.
And it is the pivot point in the Gospel and in this man’s life. Suddenly he is cured and more importantly, he is transformed from living a life of isolation and loneliness to becoming the most popular man in town. Suddenly everyone sought him out to find out about the one called Jesus.
Transformation comes from faith. From surrender. The salvation was not being cured form leprosy, it was the man’s faith that saved him.
This is the pivot point of our own stories, of our lives too. Without surrendering to God’s well, we may as well live a life in the shadows. Instead, Jesus invites us out and into the sunshine, into the light.
And that… is the miracle…