Homily for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Image: Tipofaz

Homily for Sixth Sund
ay in Ordinary Time
Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46
1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1
Mark 1:40-45

Let me tell you a story of when I was a kid, in the sixth grade.
At recess time after lunch at the Great Oak School in Danvers,
Kickball was the game the boys most often played.

I wasn’t very good at sports
and as a result, when teams were picked by two captains,
I could always count on being chosen last.
It wasn’t pleasant but I became accustomed to it.

But one day something different happened.

The two captains were choosing teams
and I was waiting to be picked last
but when I was the only one left
the captain who was about to end up with me
said to the other captain,
“You can have Austin.”
And the other captain said,
“No, we don’t want him either.”

I walked off the playground and back into my classroom
on what will always be one of the worst days of my life.

Remember the words in the first scripture today?
The one who bears the sore of leprosy will cry out,
"Unclean, unclean!"
and he shall dwell apart,
making his abode outside the camp.

That’s how I felt that day on the playground:
marked by my athletic clumsiness,
clean enough to be chosen for a team,
and banished from the playground,
to spend recess
outside the camp of the chosen.

If you’ve ever had a similar experience,
or if my story reminds you of a time
when you were a captain choosing up sides,
then you have a window for understanding today's scriptures.

The aversion folks had in biblical times to scabs, pustules and sores
wasn’t based on a fear that they’d catch what the sick people suffered
- their experience taught them otherwise.
Rather, they feared that physical contact with the diseased,
would render the healthy spiritually unclean:
lost to God’s love – losers.

And that’s just what my classmates feared about me:
if they let me on their team – they’d probably lose.

Children can be cruel in how they banish other kids
outside the camp of a playground, cafeteria table or group of friends.
Grown-ups are usually more subtle about these things
but the sting of prejudice and exclusion still has power
to deeply wound those who are rejected.

We have all manner of ways of defending our behavior
when it includes some and excludes others.
I don’t think the kids on the playground at my school
set out to hurt me – they just wanted to win a kickball game.

And therein lies the problem.
Our desire for something for ourselves, even something good,
can so easily blind us to the hurt we inflict on others.

What Jesus does in the gospel story today was radical for his times:
he stretched out his hand and touched a leper.
He risked being perceived as unclean himself, a loser,
for the sake of one who had been banished from the community.
And in doing this he clearly establishes a model
for how we are to relate with one another.

There are many who perceive the Church, today, as an authority
banishing to a place
outside its camp, apart from its table,
those perceived in some way to be “unclean.”
Such situations are not without subtleties
but we need to heed St. Paul who wrote to us today,
Whatever you do, do everything for God's glory
and avoid giving offense,
whether to the Jews or Greeks (the Gentiles)
or the church of God.

Back in 1959 at the Great Oak School,
my teacher, Mr. Silvernail, was in my classroom
when I retreated there from my embarrassment on the playground.
He listened to my story as I choked back tears
and told me he’d take care of things.
I don’t know whom he spoke to, or when, or what he said,
but the next day he encouraged me to go out to recess and I did.
I was still the last kid picked for a team,
but that was OK: I was chosen.

In so many ways you and I are
and very often we are a bunch of losers,
but that doesn’t keep Jesus from choosing us to be with him
and it doesn’t keep him from choosing to be with us.

He stretches out his hand and touches us
in the sacrament of his body and blood,
at the table of his sacrifice.
He chooses us for his own.

As he invites and welcomes us here,
let us choose and welcome others
into our lives, into our hearts and into the faith of our church.



  1. your homily was one (of many) that I could really relate to...
    yes, children (and adults, even if it's "subtle") can be very cruel...

    thank you for your very thoughtful and comforting words- they give all of us some very important things to think about, remember and hopefully act upon...

  2. So sorry this happened to you and hurt you so much. I don't really understand how anyone can be so cruel to another human being. It's not an excuse that they are just kids. Kids also, have to know right from wrong. It should be taught from day one not to hurt someone either emotionally or physically. I wish those who had not chosen you could know the great man you turned out to be and you may have helped their team from just being the kind person God created you to be.

  3. What a fantastic homily. I too was often picked last or near last. I often use a similar analogy as this story in police training classes and conversations.

    I too took away a life lesson many moons ago. Tonight you brought me back to the playground - got Goosebumps. Really plucked my heart strings!

    Awesome job! Great graphic!

  4. I am away but just reading the homily reminded me of many of those times not on the playground but lots of other places. The great thing is that you turned out to be a STAR even though you are not athletic.

    Take care and feel better soon.

  5. Thank you for sharing something so personal with us. It really helped bring it all home for me and better able to get into and understand yesterday's teaching.

    My heart still breaks for Little Austin, though. I hope going to the place you needed to recall that memory wasnt too painful. Thank youi again for sharing.

  6. Some day I would love to come visit and hear you preach.

    This is a beautiful homily. It is always so moving if you can bring your own story in, as your story - my story - his story - her story - we are the story with the Scripture.

    I am really moved by what you said. I too was a failure at kickball and almost any other sport.

    To welcome all - that is church. That means all - even some of us who sometimes feel so opening and welcoming need to examine just who and what that means. And then to really include ALL.


  7. This was an excellent homily. Thank you for sharing this story.

  8. It's never an easy thing to "visit" that playground but the important thing is that when I do, it's only a "visit" - I no longer "live" in those recess moments...

  9. Paul: in turn, I'm grateful for your posting it on your blog.

  10. One thing your homily brought to mind for me was my rejection my freshman year in college by the two sororities I most wanted to join. I remember sitting on the grass in front of the dorms with my freshman advisor crying my heart out. She deftly reminded me that two other sororities really wanted very much to have me join them. I did join one of these, life went on, and my pain subsided, but in the moment it was a very painful, hurtful thing to go through.


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