Homily – February 12th, 2012
Power of Jesus
6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
In Greece, Pyrros Dimas received a hero’s welcome in 1992. Born of Greek parents in Albania, he immigrated back to Greece in 1991. Then in the summer Olympics, held in Athens, he succeeded as a weight lifter, and in the final round lifted 445 pounds, and held that amount over his head while shouting, “For Greece.” Pyrros Dimas collected gold medals at four Olympic Games, so much so that he earned the nickname of “Midas.” 100,000 people turned out at victory celebration for this strong man, for this man of power.
Often enough television advertisements emphasize the power of a pickup truck. The Chrysler Corporation has featured the Ram pick-up truck claiming that this truck has the power to tow a heavy load. Repeatedly, the power of the engine receives our gaze as the truck seems able to pull a house or a locomotive. Power matters!
Jesus is a person of power. In today’s gospel account, a leper comes to Jesus. This leper falls on his knees and so realizes in Jesus a sense of divinity. To Jesus this diseased person comes, not to someone such as a king or such as a military commander. Although Jesus arrives without retinue and without heralds, still this leper acts toward Our Lord as toward a person of power, saying, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” He asserts that Jesus has the ability and capacity, the potential and the strength to help the leper, even if Jesus is not willing. The Lord, says this leper, has the power, the dominion and the rule to do it. What counts is only the choice and desire. The man kneeling at Jesus’ feet says, “If you wish.”
This terrible disease of leprosy was once common in Palestine. I myself saw a person in Guyana whose leprosy had been arrested, although he had lost a hand to that deforming and degrading affliction. The Law of Moses made the leper an outcast from society. He had to live outside inhabited places, go bareheaded so that he could be recognized from a distance, and if he happened to meet anyone he had to cover his mouth with the folds of his garment and cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!” He was perpetually unclean legally, socially, religiously. If another were to touch him, that person would be defiled, just as if the person touched a corpse.
At that time, there could be no attempt to cure leprosy; it was an affliction sent by God; only God, therefore, could cure it. The gospel does not relate that Jesus cures this person; rather, Jesus purifies the person.
In our society, special people have power and authority. For instance, police carry guns. Security police protect their agency’s facilities, properties, operations and personnel; they may arrest people, and they carry a gun in order to enforce their authority. They have power deputed to them by the state.
The state gives power to others. A week ago I saw at the ferry terminal a car going toward a space on the ferry boat; it was detained because the ferry director indicated that car should take the ramp to the second level. The ferry director manifested chagrin!
A physician has power to write a prescription, to authorize medication and immunization and to hospitalize and to perform surgery. This power comes, ultimately, from the power of the state. An attorney has power to authenticate legal documents and to present cases before a court. A legislator may compose a law, and a judge has power to sentence a convicted person—even to capital punishment, even to death. Money has power, for money purchases a potato, or a car, or a house, or a ticket to Tokyo. The psalms express a sense of God’s power as God created and rules the cosmic forces.
You, God, are my king from of old,
Winning victories throughout the earth.
You opened springs and torrents,
Brought dry land out of the primeval water.
Yours the day and yours the night;
You set the moon and sun in place. (Psalm 74:12-16)
In contrast to God’s power, Isaiah scoffs at the powerlessness of
All who make idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do
not profit; [they cannot witness that the idol sees or knows
anything]. And so [the makers of idols] will be put to shame. Who
would fashion a god or cast an image that can do no good? Look,
all [an idol’s] devotees shall be put to shame; the artisans too are
merely human” (Isaiah 44: 9-11). Elsewhere in the gospel, Jesus states that “all power in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). He knows the power which He commands. Even at His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus indirectly refers to His power. “Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26: 53) Although Jesus sets aside His command, He nonetheless remains aware of His divine rule.
This leper has apparently witnessed the Lord’s other works of power. And now this leper appeals to Jesus: “if you wish, you can make me clean.” “Moved with pity, [Jesus] stretched out his hand, touched [the leper], and said to him, ‘I do will it. Be made clean.’ The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean” (Mark 1:41-42).
The gospels recount a number of miracles, the occasions on which Jesus flashes forth power over His creation. You and I and the cosmos manifest the work of the Lord’s creation, the power of the Lord on our behalf. Amen.