For the next few weeks the Church will present excerpts from the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews as our scripture for daily Mass.
I spoke about some of the details concerning this text yesterday, highlighting that the Letter to the Hebrews is an essay about what God reveals to us in Christ- that in Christ, God accepted a human nature, lived a real, human life, that he suffered and he died, and in accomplishing all this, he overcame all the blocks that sin and death placed in his way. By becoming human, by suffering and dying, God in Christ placed himself in relationship with us and this relationship is not to an idea, or an emotion, or an institution, but to a person.
In Jesus Christ, God reveals himself to us as a person and meets us person to person and face to face.
Today the Letter to the Hebrews warns us about “hardness of heart” in regards to the revelation of Christ. This hardness of heart can manifest itself as opposition to Christ, a refusal to love and a refusal to serve. But it can also manifest itself in indifference to what God in Christ has revealed, a refusal to appreciate that what God in Christ has accomplished happens as a total surprise and as a completely undeserved gift.
Indifference refuses the overtures of a living, personal God revealed in Christ and prefers instead an abstraction. God is not so much a person as an idea or emotion or in the worst cases, a thing to be manipulated to serve our own purposes. It is hardness of heart that creates the conditions for this kind of idolatry. Reducing God to an abstraction seems easier than accepting his revelation as a person. Abstractions can be shaped at will to conform to our desires and expectations. A living, divine person is far less pliable and will resist our attempts to make him into whatever or whoever we want him to be.
To be a Christian does not mean that you believe in an argument for God’s existence or in an ideology based on the teachings of Jesus. Nor does being a Christian mean that you have a vague association with Jesus because you matriculated through faith based educational institutions. Being a Christian means that you have opened your heart to Christ, that you have accepted his love for you and love what he loves in return.
Blessed John Henry Newman described being a Christian as “cor ad cor loquitur”- heart speaking to heart. God in Christ speaks “heart to heart” with us- but will our hearts listen? Can our heart listen? It cannot listen if it has hardened itself against his overtures of love- overtures of love that are revealed to us, not in abstractions, but in the flesh and blood, in the living divine person- Jesus Christ.
In today’s Gospel, the Lord Jesus enters into a relationship with a leper, imparting the healing grace of his mercy.
Leprosy was not just a physical malady, but also a spiritual state of being. The leper was driven to the margins as they were considered cursed, beyond the grace of God’s will to redeem and save. They seemed the walking dead, shadows of the damned. Christ will have none of this. It is precisely the leper that he has come to restore, to redeem and to save.
We all have leprosy. Perhaps not the physical malady, but all of us will inhabit or do inhabit the spiritual state of a leprosy, for we are all, without exception, sinners.
Do we wish to be “made clean” that is, restored, redeemed, saved.
Christ wills all this for us, but do we want what he wants? Are we willing to ask him to help us?
The Sacrament of Reconciliation offers to us the same grace, the same encounter and relationship with Christ that the leper received in today’s Gospel.
How many of us lepers, in the hardness of our hearts, cannot bring ourselves to accept from the Lord Jesus the offer of grace, the healing that would restore us and make us whole?