No cooties on Jesus!

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Homily for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Scriptures for today's liturgy

Audio for homily

This gospel passage certainly seems to be about healing
but the truth be told, it’s about… there’s no other way to say it…
it’s about cooties!

Yes, cooties!

You know, those imaginary little bugs that other people don’t have
but you’re convinced they do have
and you’re afraid that you might catch them.

Bear with me...

The healing ministry of Jesus took place long before
there were any debates about health insurance
and before the availability of the cures medicine offers today.

In Jesus’ time, illness was often understood as a kind of curse
and those who were sick could be excluded from society.
Especially sores on the skin and bleeding
were understood to render a person unclean, literally untouchable,
cut off from the life and worship
the community shared and offered.

The healing Jesus does is less about making people physically well
(although he certainly did do that)
and more about restoring meaning to people’s lives
and restoring them to the life of the community.

In other words, the healing ministry of Jesus 
is very much about getting rid of cooties.

The remarkable thing about Jesus in these healing stories
is that he’s not afraid of cooties!

He reaches out and touches those who are sick or leprous or bleeding
(like the woman in the gospel story today).
He has no worry about contagion;
he doesn’t shield himself from the unclean
but instead, he welcomes them to his embrace.
He looks beyond the illness, the scabs, the blood
and sees the dignity of each human person – and embraces it –
regardless of that person’s physical condition, social status or holiness.

Once cured, all those whom Jesus heals
are free to return to the community’s embrace,
in which they find their life’s meaning restored.

What we might pay attention to is that healing, understood in this way,
is something we all can do.
We may not be able to cure the sick
but it’s often within our power, yours and mine, to heal, that is:
to restore meaning to people’s lives
by reaching out to touch and embrace them
and to welcome into our company those who have been shunned
because there’s of a rumor that “they have cooties.”

Most of us stopped using the word “cooties”
by the time we got to middle school
but that doesn’t mean that we stopped shunning folks
as unclean, untouchable,
not worthy or deserving of a place in our circle.

Prejudice is the grown-up word for cooties
and prejudice operates in more subtle ways in our adult lives
than did cooties on the playground.
We might not use that word any more but all kinds of people,
individuals, groups, whole classes of people are
ostracized, excluded, shut out, marginalized and denied their rights
by governments, faith groups, business, society -
and even by us as individuals.

Are there people where I work, or in my parish, or at my school,
in my neighborhood or even in my family
whom I refuse to acknowledge? talk to? socialize with?
people I simply avoid to keep my distance from them?

Do my politics, my ideology, my philosophy, my theology
allow or even call on me to shun and deny the rights
of any who have a just claim on them?

Might it not be in my power to heal,
that is to restore meaning to others’ lives:
by respecting them for who they are;
by acknowledging their human dignity;
by asking forgiveness where I’ve offended them;
by accepting their apology when it’s offered;
by seeing in them what the Lord sees in them
and loving in them what the Lord loves in them?

My sins and yours are like sores on our souls,
bleeding out the harm our prejudice has done to others,
but the Lord, in his mercy, looks beyond our scabrous hearts
and sees and loves in each of us the person he created.
So great is his mercy that he invites us to sit with him
at the table of his Last Supper, to share the sacrifice of the Cross
in his Body broken and his Blood spilled for us
in the Bread and Cup of the Eucharist.

As the Lord welcomes, forgives, accepts and embraces us here,
restoring meaning to our lives in this Communion of grace,
so let us welcome, forgive, accept and embrace any and all
who need and seek God’s mercy, just as we do.

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