“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”
What drove the man in today’s gospel to approach Jesus? The Law of Moses strictly forbade those with leprosy or any physical disorder of the skin to come near healthy people lest others be made sick and ritually unclean. A sick person was a lonely person. Those who had been declared unclean could be stoned to death for breaking the Law of Moses. Still the man risked his life to come close to the Teacher Jesus of Nazareth. Why?
Perhaps we might also ask why would anyone who has lost everything – house, family, job – and is living underneath a bridge come out of the shadows and stand in line for soup and a sandwich. Perhaps we might ask why a couple who have been told they cannot receive Holy Communion because they are divorced and remarried without an annulment still come to Mass. Why do dying people just want to leave the hospital and go home?
Servant of God Dorothy Day, may have known the answer. In her autobiography The Long Loneliness, the champion of rights for the poor and homeless writes, “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.” For Dorothy the cure for sickness and brokenness was community. She spent her life creating communities for poor, the homeless, and the unstable. They are called Catholic Worker Houses.
Dorothy was passionate about people’s rights but she failed miserably in her love relationships. After two separations and an abortion she fell in love with Forster Batterham, a biologist, atheist, and an anarchist. The couple never married, but they welcomed a daughter into this world named Tamar. After Dorothy insisted that her daughter be baptized, Batterham left her and the child. Dorothy grieved for a long time over his abandonment of her and her daughter.
She did however begin to experience healing through two friendships: a nun who invited her to work in a soup kitchen and a former lay brother who wanted to establish communities based on the Gospel of Jesus and his way of loving. These two people welcomed a broken woman into their lives and a community of compassion. They reached out to her, walked with her, and gave her friendship in her long loneliness.
I will submit to you that what caused the leprous man to leap over his fear of breaking the law was his deep thirst for human companionship and community. Having watched and listened to Jesus from the edges of society he summoned his courage and responded to grace, the offer of divine love. He placed himself squarely in front of Jesus and made a statement of faith, “If you wish you can make me clean.”
People have been saying that for centuries, in many different ways, but they are all saying the same thing. “Jesus, I believe that your love can do anything. I believe that your love can make me whole. I want to be wherever you are, because wherever you are is home.”
People do not stand in line for just a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a cup of coffee because they are hungry for food; they are also hungry for love. Divorced and remarried people do not come to church just to hear Mass. They come to experience the love of Jesus because in his community of compassion he heals their long loneliness; reaching out to touch them. Here at 129 West Daisy Lane Jesus says to them “I love you. Do not be ashamed. Do not be afraid. You are safe here with me.”
This week we will begin the season of Lent. It is a time to come home; to come in from the cold and the rain and the great loneliness that sin creates in our lives. It is a time to notice the person who is standing at the edge of our parish community. The person whose eyes are telling us, “If you wish, you can make me whole.”