by Mrs. Aju Tharian, Dumont, NJ
In the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit one true God, Amen.
Today is the Second Sunday of the Great Lent. Fifty day lent or the Great Lent is the most important of the five canonical lents our Church has set aside. There are Seven Sundays during this lent period and each Sunday has its own significance. Each Sunday we remember one miracle our Lord Jesus Christ has Performed.
Man needs air and food for the growth of our body. In the same way, prayer and fasting are necessary for our spiritual growth. Only through fasting and prayer, we will be able to resist Satan's Power. Jesus Christ spent much of His time in Prayer and Fasting. Jesus, our savior spent 40 days before His Public Ministry. Bible records that Moses and Elijah also fasted for 40 days. During lent days, we should spent more time in prayer and reading the Bible. It is also important to visit the sick and suffering. We must save money by fasting and use it to help the poor and needy. Prayer is nothing but a communication between Man and God. God is a person whom you can rely on always. A trustworthy friend. Unlike our worldly friends, God is a friend in need and a friend indeed. Just a call away. Always ready and willing to help.
You should pray not only for you, but also for others who need your prayers.
Coming down to fasting & prayer. What is Fasting? Fasting is abstaining from certain foods for certain period of time to dedicate oneself to focused prayer. When we fast we should not only give up certain kinds of food, but also fast in our words, actions and thoughts. Fasting and Praying is most effective. If your stomach is full you loose concentration. Fasting is done for the soul purpose. We get our souls right with God. When you fast you discipline yourself. In the Bible we can find many people who fasted and prayed and God answered their earnest prayers.
So now we know that lent is a special time of prayer and fasting, sacrifice and good works in preparation for the celebration of Easter.
Does anyone remember last week's Gospel Reading? Yes, it was about wedding in Cana from St. John 2:1-11. Jesus was able to change the lifeless water to wine. Simply speaking, it was about the transformation. Transforming our body and mind to enter the Lent Season. If last week was about transformation, this week is about humility and helping others in need.
Today's Bible Reading is from St. Luke 5: 12-16. It is also called Garbo Sunday. Garbo in Syriac means leper. This particular passage has also been recorded in 2 more gospels, St. Matt 8:1-4 and St. Mark 1:40-45.
This particular passage is about healing the leper. We human beings tend to be so worried with small things like skin color, gender, poverty, religion or politics. Leprosy is a terrible disease and existed in Biblical times too. person who caught it was incurable and banned (isolated) from society. It is an infectious disease and is unclean. When I was small kid, back in India in my home parish, I still remember seeing these people after church. They used to regularly visit our church for alms. As we leave the church, we could see these people sitting and begging for alms. Their hands and legs are deformed. We can see puss and blood oozing from their hands and legs. Now-a-days, they have stopped coming out there because of cops, they chase them away.
In the Bible, we see in Numbers 12:9-15, Miriam, who had leprosy for 7 days as a punishment for speaking against Moses' Leadership. In 2 Kings - Naaman, the general of Aram, an heathen from Damascus, obeyed Elijah's instructions to wash 7 times in River Jordan. He was healed from Leprosy.
Jesus had left Capernaum and on his preaching journey through the towns of Galilee. A leper who happens to be nearby sees him. This leper is far advanced with the disease. Luke, who is a physican, says that he is 'full of Leprosy'. Imagine the disfigured man, dressed in tattered clothes, his face partly covered so as to avoid people seeing him coming to see Jesus. This leper knew that no other leper was healed since Elijah's time but had faith that Jesus, who healed many incurable diseases, can heal and cure his leprosy too. But to come to Jesus for healing was a risk in itself. The leper will be beaten if he doesn't strictly observe the rules to keep away from normal people.
From this reading, I would like to point out 4 main points. Two of them are from the actions of the leper and two of them are from the reactions of Jesus. Let's look at the leper. He is not simply asking Jesus to heal him. He was very polite and humble. He knelt down and prayed "Lord, if you are willing, make me clean." This is a humble request from the leper. This teaches us how to pray. During the lent we kneel down (kumbedeel) many times. This is to make us aware about the importance of humility and respect towards God and others. Also when we pray, we cannot demand anything. When we pray, we have many demands. Sometimes our prayers are too selfish. This story tells us to surrender to God's will. In Europe, there was a great kingdom called Hapsburg that ruled for 600 years. This kingdom had a great tradition during the death of their King. When the King dies, the body will be taken to a big tomb that had a huge entrance door.
The person who carries the King's coffin would knock at the door of the tomb. Then the soldier from inside will ask, "Who is knocking at the door?" Then the coffin carrier will say, "I am the greatest king in this planet." Then the reply will be "I don't know him."
He knocks for the second time and the response will still be the same. When he knocks at the third time, the coffin carrier will reply, "I am a great sinner." At this time, the door opens and the King will be buried peacefully. This tradition signifies the value of repentance and humility in one's life.
Now, look at the response of Jesus. He was not running away from the leper. As you know, leprosy is a horrible disease then and even now. According to World health Organization's latest report, there are more than 200 thousand lepers around 140 countries around the world.
We don't see them here but there are many lepers in India and many other parts of the world. It is one of the most horrible contagious diseases in the world. Usually people move away from such people. But here Jesus is patiently waiting and listening to his painful story. He was kind and showing empathy towards this leper. Not only that, he touched and prayed for him. The Orthodox Church remembers the healing of the leper, who is kept away from society because of his illness. Yet Jesus who had healed people even without seeing them extended His arm and touched and healed him. Leprosy is an infectious disease which spreads by touch. Leper is a person who is considered untouchable by society. Remember Jesus had the power of healing people without seeing and even touching.
The take home message for Christians is very clear here. Show mercy and kindness towards fellow citizens. Help them in their need. But feeling sorry and giving some money for charity is not enough. We have to find time to reach the people in need. And these needy people are sometimes not far away, but in our midst. We may not find lepers, but we will find our own brothers and sisters in need. We may find our own children or neighbor's children in need. We may find needy people in our work place. It is our Christian duty to help them in what ever way we can. Again helping is not always giving money or material goods. A simple smile and a friendly talk will help many people around us. Remember the saying "Charity begins at home."
The physical disease of leprosy can be compared to the spiritual disease of sin.
According to modern scholars, the greatest sin of the modern world is the lack of awareness about sin. Now-a-days, sinful actions are identified as progressive life styles or illnesses. If a child is misbehaving, the doctors blame it on attention deficit disorder (ADD). They don't bother to find the root of the problem, but try to treat the physical body.
In this lent season, let us make our life a blessed one by approaching God with a humble and contrite heart. A contrite heart is better than sacrifices according to the Bible in Psalms 51:17. Also let us make every effort to reach our fellow citizens in need. Let us pray together to achieve these goals during the Holy lent.
Stay in faith and the Lord will take you places you have never been before.
Thank you and let God bless us all.
Great Lent Resources - HomeJesus Heals a Man with Leprosy
by: Rev. Dr. V Kurian Thomas, Valiyaparambil
Garbo Sunday or Sunday of the Leper
by Rev. Fr. Paulose T. Peter, New York
Devotional Thoughts for the Sunday of the Leper
by Jose Kurian Puliyeril
Jesus Touched a Leper
by Dn. Monsy Manimalethu Jacob
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