More Than a Crowd

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Friday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time 

Matthew 8:1-4

When Jesus came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And then a leper approached, did him homage, and said, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” He stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I will do it. Be made clean.” His leprosy was cleansed immediately. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one, but go show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.” 

Opening Prayer: I come before you today, Lord, just as I am. To be honest, I would like to come before you with keener attention, more fervent adoration, and more ardent determination. But I bring you what I have: my weakness, my blindness, my brokenness. I bring you my heart, small and fragile and confused, but sincerely open to you. I know you are with me and eager to share your grace with me. Thank you, Lord. Speak to my poor heart, because I am listening. 

Encountering Christ:

  1. My Place in the Crowd: “Great crowds” followed Jesus as he came down from the mountain. Great crowds gathered around him wherever he went, except when he went to the Cross. When he was nailed to a cross, dying a humiliating death in excruciating pain, the crowds were nowhere to be found. Even his closest friends and followers, the Apostles, abandoned him. Some went into hiding. Some watched from a distance. Only one, John the Evangelist, stayed with Jesus on Calvary. Each person in the crowd had a reason for following Jesus during his popular days. But that reason was put to the test on Good Friday. The same thing continues to happen today. Great crowds follow Jesus. The Catholic Church has more than a billion members throughout the world. And yet, how many of us stay close to Jesus through thick and thin? Fewer than we would like to admit. We know that only a tiny percentage even go to Sunday Mass. We can guess, then, that even a smaller percentage stays faithful to Christ’s friendship when life’s inevitable crosses make their appearance. Where am I in that crowd? Why am I following Jesus? Today, while watching the crowds follow Jesus as he descends from the mountain, is a good time to reflect on why I am following the Lord and what I am hoping for from him.
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  3. The Leper’s Advantage: The leper showed stunning courage by approaching Jesus. At the time of Christ, leprosy (a disease which gradually rots a person’s flesh from the skin down) was considered highly contagious, as well as a punishment from God for sins. As a result, lepers had to live separated from the community in pitiful colonies on the outskirts of inhabited areas. They had to carry a little warning bell they would ring in case an unwary traveler mistakenly approached them. They were physical and spiritual outcasts, unwelcome and without hope. But this leper saw something in Jesus that sparked enough courage to overcome all social norms and psychological fears. Maybe it was his own misery that opened his heart and mind to the light of Christ. His own utter helplessness and undeniable weakness opened him to the gift of faith. He had no arrogance left, no vanity, no attachment to the pleasures of this world—he was free from all the usual distractions that make us blind to God’s goodness. He saw something in Christ’s eyes. He heard something in Christ’s voice. Something gave him hope for a miracle. Something convinced him that Jesus would not reject him or be afraid of him, like everyone else. Something convinced him that Jesus would look upon him and see his true self, the identity that God had given him at the beginning and which still dwelt deep within. And he was right. What is holding me back from seeing the truth of Christ’s love for me more clearly? Am I ashamed of my own leprosies? Can I learn from this encounter to see them as a gift, a place given by God’s providence where I can encounter the infinite mercy and power of my Creator and Redeemer?
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  5. Jesus Untamed: Jesus “stretched out his hand” to the leper and “touched him.” This is why Jesus decided to save us by becoming one of us. He wanted to touch us. He wanted to come down into our messy lives, into this fallen world, and meet us here. He wanted to prove to our stubborn and wounded hearts that God has not and will never abandon us, that we truly are worthy and lovable from God’s perspective. Jesus touched a leper. Imagine the reactions of the crowd as they fearfully backed away from the leper and then watched Jesus reach out and touch him. Imagine the surprise, the shock, the fear, the confusion. And then they saw that the touch of Christ actually healed the leper. Imagine the awe, the reverence, and again the confusion. Jesus was not just another wise teacher or eloquent rabbi. Something else entirely has come into their lives in Jesus. Does Jesus still impress me, challenge me, awe me? Have I perhaps tamed the real Jesus in my own mind and my life? What is Jesus saying to me today through this amazing, earth-shaking encounter with the leper?

 

Conversing with Christ: I believe in you, Lord, but you know that my faith is so weak! I so easily forget the infinity of your goodness and the immensity of your power. I so easily become distracted by the glitter of the good things of this world. I want to have the clear sight this leper had. I want to approach you in my brokenness and need with the hope and confidence this leper showed. I want to leave behind all vain fears and worldly thoughts so that I truly encounter you afresh every single day. I want to become more like you, so that your goodness and power can shine anew through me. Thy will be done, Lord, in my life; thy Kingdom come. 

Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will treat someone who is considered an outcast with Christlike love. 

For Further Reflection: Miracles of Mercy: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat on the Healing Touch of Jesus. 

Written by Fr. John Bartunek, LC.

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